A former marketing director at courier service CitySprint, where male colleagues allegedly joked about taking bets about her pregnancy weight gain, has been awarded £36,000 in compensation and damages.
The central London employment tribunal found that Sally-Anne Shipp had been unfairly dismissed from her £100,000 role and that her claim of pregnancy and maternity discrimination was well founded.
Pregnancy and maternity discrimination
Shipp began work at CitySprint in 2010 and was appointed marketing director in 2016. CitySprint has private equity backing from Lloyds Development Capital and in 2018, having breached its covenants, CitySprint’s then CEO and CFO asked senior employees to take a temporary reduction in salary. Shipp agreed to a 20% pay cut.
Later that year Shipp was made group marketing director and became a member of two executive teams. In February 2019 she shared with some colleagues the news that she was pregnant. Operations director Craig Eddy asked her when she had stopped taking contraception and how she thought that her pregnancy would affect her long-term career prospects.
During an executive team meeting Eddy told her “when you have to leave that little one at nursery, you won’t want to come back.” Other directors asked her whether the pregnancy had been planned and CEO Paul Gisbourne also remarked that that they should put a wager on how much weight Shipp would gain during pregnancy, although this comment was disputed.
Shipp found these comments offensive and humiliating but decided against making a formal complaint because she did not want her maternity leave to be marred by the issue and was wary about making complaints against senior colleagues when there had already been some allusion to the effects of her pregnancy on her career.
She did however raise the issue informally with two senior female colleagues including Georgina Kilcoyne, head of HR. Kilcoyne offered to speak to members of the executive team about it but Shipp said she would handle it herself told Gisbourne about the comments that Eddy had made, before going on maternity leave in June 2019.
A month later “huge changes” took place at board level and all of the executive team, except for Shipp, were either dismissed or resigned. No one at City Sprint contacted Shipp to tell her of the changes.
In his evidence interim CEO Gary West said that he had “had no engagement with” Shipp and that Jessica Tomlinson, who had been covering Shipp’s maternity leave, was “the obvious choice as she was head of marketing.” He told the tribunal he was used to executives picking up the phone to introduce themselves and he had had “no exposure” to the claimant while he was there.
There cannot be anything worse for a woman on maternity leave to find out that she has lost her job because she was on maternity leave and then to have to spend her maternity leave fighting to get her job back” – Judge Grewal
Employment Judge Harjit Grewal said: “That overlooked the fact that the claimant was on maternity leave at the time and no one at the respondent had contacted her as the most senior person left in the business to inform her of, or discuss with her, the huge changes that were taking place. As far as Mr West was concerned, the claimant who was not present at the workplace had no role in the new structure. She did not feature in his restructuring plans.”
The employment tribunal heard Shipp’s redundancy process described as a sham: “All the evidence indicates that no such role existed. Thereafter, HR compiled a generic job description for a director of marketing role by copying from a job description on websites without in any way linking it to the respondent’s business or needs.”
The director of marketing role was paid 20% less than Shipp’s previous role, and required her to attend the London office four days a week, which she felt was a deliberate barrier to her being able to accept it. In contrast, one senior male colleague was demoted but retained his salary and others were given bigger, better paid roles. Other senior colleagues were also repaid the temporary 2018 pay cut while Shipp was not.
Judge Grewal concluded: “There cannot be anything worse for a woman on maternity leave to find out that she has lost her job because she was on maternity leave and then to have to spend her maternity leave fighting to get her job back. We concluded that this was a serious case of maternity discrimination and the appropriate award was towards the top of the middle band. We awarded the Claimant £25,000 for injury to feelings.”
The judgment outlined that Shipp was also awarded £5,000 interest, £5,000 damages for breach of contract, and a basic award of £715 for unfair dismissal.
A CitySprint spokesperson said: “Whilst we’re disappointed with the judgment handed down by the employment tribunal, the actions and behaviours described are clearly unacceptable and in no way reflect the current values or culture of our business.
“Over the past 18 months the business has gone through a significant period of transformation, with a change of leadership team and major investment in our HR and people function. We are confident that the right processes now exist to ensure CitySprint remains an inclusive and welcoming place for all to work.”