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Pregnant employee whose colleagues took bets on her weight wins maternity discrimination claim

View profile for Stephen Woodhouse
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It has recently been reported that a former marketing director has been awarded £30,000 following her successful claim for sex and maternity discrimination. The claimant is understood to have been a senior figure at a courier firm, until she was made redundant whilst on maternity leave in 2019.  

The tribunal heard that the claimant was told in an executive team meeting “when you have to leave that little one at nursery, you won’t want to come back”. It was also alleged that the company’s CEO had suggested that staff should put a wager on how much weight the claimant would gain during her pregnancy. The claimant found these comments to be offensive and humiliating and raised these issues with two female senior members of staff.

It is understood that the claimant commenced maternity leave in June 2019, shortly thereafter, the company undertook major changes to the senior structure of the business, The company consulted with those who remained in the office, many of whom were offered, and accepted, roles on the new operating board of the company, with some given higher salaries. In contrast, it is reported that the company failed to discuss these changes with the claimant. As far as the company was concerned, the claimant was not going to be coming back to work after maternity leave. The tribunal panel concluded that the claimant had been disadvantaged and subjected to unfavourable treatment because of her gender and/or the fact that she was on maternity leave.

The claimant was offered an alternative role to avoid redundancy, however with this offer came a requirement to work in London four days a week. The claimant was unable to take this role due to her childcare commitments and was therefore made redundant. The tribunal concluded that the proposed working pattern put the claimant, as a woman, (more of whom statistically have primary responsibility for childcare), at a disadvantage compared with men and that this amounted to indirect sex discrimination. 

This case provides important lessons for both employers and employees alike. From an employee’s perspective, it offers a reaffirmation that the law will protect those who suffer unfavourable treatment because of their gender and/or them exercising their right to maternity leave. From an employer’s perspective, it highlights the importance of maintaining regular contact with those on maternity leave, particularly where there are structural changes which occur during this period. Furthermore, it demonstrates the need for regular equality and diversity training. This ensures that staff, particularly those in positions of seniority, are mindful on their conduct and in particular how their actions, even if unintentional, can offend others.

Should you require any advice or assistance in relation to your business or employment due to the issues raised in this case, please contact our experienced and specialist employment and discrimination team on 0161 696 6170.