Case round up: discrimination against contract worker

Patefield v Belfast City Council, IDS Brief 670, Court of Appeal Northern Ireland

Patefield, an agency contract worker, was placed with the council, "the principal", in 1995. In September 1997 she told the council she was pregnant and would work until March 1998. Because she was not its employee, the council refused to confirm that Patefield could return to her post after taking maternity leave. The council then transferred a permanent employee to replace Patefield, who was offered another position on less favourable terms when her maternity leave ended.

She brought a successful sex discrimination claim. The tribunal accepted that the council could have lawfully replaced Patefield with a permanent employee at any time while she was working, but held that it had subjected her to a detriment by not allowing her back to her old job after taking maternity leave. A significant factor was that Patefield was the longest-serving member of staff in her department by March 1998 and, but for becoming pregnant and taking maternity leave, she would have remained in her post indefinitely. The council’s subsequent appeal was dismissed


When does time start to run?

Young v National Power, unreported, November 2000, Court of Appeal

Between 1991 and May 1995, Young worked in the audit department as a "value for money" (VFM) analyst. She was then seconded to another department until her redundancy in October 1996. In April 1997, she brought an equal pay claim on the basis that her VFM work was of equal value to that of certain men working in the audit department. At a preliminary hearing, the tribunal struck out Young’s claim on the basis that it was out of time. As the Equal Pay Act provided that claims had to be brought within six months of the termination of employment and Young’s employment as a VFM analyst had ended in May 1995, the limitation period had expired in November 1995.

Young successfully appealed to the EAT and National Power appealed to the Court of Appeal. It held that the limitation period related to and ran from the termination of the contract of employment rather than the actual job upon which the equal pay claim was based. No new contracts had been entered into in 1991 and 1995 when Young began and ended the VFM work. She had been engaged throughout on one contract only.

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