Liz Earle Beauty Company adopted discriminatory redundancy process for pregnant worker

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The Liz Earle Beauty Company must pay a former employee more than £17,000 for pregnancy and maternity discrimination, after it failed to consider her for other vacancies as part of an “unfair and discriminatory” redundancy process.

Mrs Larkin was a channel marketing manager within the firm’s digital team. She told her employer she was pregnant in January 2018.

At around the same time, the company employed a digital strategist and consultant, Ms Slaymaker, in response to a decrease in high street sales and increasing online activity.

Mrs Larkin met with Ms Slaymaker in February 2018 so Slaymaker could discuss her plans for the organisation. She told Mrs Larkin that she wanted her to work on the strategy for the email channel and that this area of the business would be expanded. Mrs Larkin left the meeting feeling positive about her opportunities within the organisation.

Also in Februrary, Mrs Larkin received a positive appraisal, which indicated that she was exceeding in all areas.

Later that month, the claimant’s line manager told Ms Slaymaker that the claimant was pregnant. Mrs Larkin claimed that at this point Ms Slaymaker “lost interest” in her and no further meetings about her progression were held.

Mrs Larkin’s line manager handed in her notice to leave the business in March 2018, but was told by Ms Slaymaker not to tell her staff she was leaving.

Ms Slaymaker devised a new structure for the digital team in March. The job that the claimant was doing would be made redundant, along with three other roles. The tasks she had been carrying out were to be redistributed to other roles. Mrs Larkin and the other affected employees were not told about the plans until a couple of months’ later.

In its judgment, which was given orally at a hearing in January but only published this month, the Southampton employment tribunal found that it was possible that Ms Slaymaker’s decision was influenced by the claimant’s pregnancy and her imminent maternity leave in July 2018.

The employees who were affected by the restructure were told about the company’s plans in early May, but Mrs Larkin did not have her first redundancy consultation meeting until 30 May 2018, following delays which the company said was due to the May bank holidays. She claimed this meant the length of the consultation process was rushed, which meant she was not offered some of the legal protections from being made redundant that pregnant women are afforded.

She told the tribunal she should have been considered for the role that had been vacated by her former line manager, however this position was filled on 17 May – before the time the claimant was told she was at risk of redundancy. This meant she could not ask to be considered for the role as she had not known it was available.

The tribunal agreed that Mrs Larkin had sufficient skill and expertise to have warranted consideration for the post, and ought to have been given an opportunity to apply for it.

Because the consultation was delayed, it meant that “Slaymaker was able to contact and recruit an external person, who was her preferred candidate for the post, with whom she had worked before, instead of having to actively consider whether or not this might be a post the claimant, a pregnant woman, might be interested in applying for”, the judgment says.

The respondent told the tribunal that The Liz Earle Beauty Company had considered Mrs Larkin and other employees for the role, but they were not thought suitable.

Following her consultation meeting, Mrs Larkin met with Ms Slaymaker. Ms Slaymaker said Mrs Larkin would enjoy her time being a mother before eventually looking for new companies to work for; told her to not to get stressed about the redundancy situation and that she needed to put her baby first.

The tribunal found that this was “indicative” of Ms Slaymaker’s thoughts about Mrs Larkin – that she should be enjoying motherhood rather than working. This led the tribunal to conclude Mrs Larkin’s pregnancy had factored into the company’s decision about making her redundant.

The judgment says the company’s behaviour was “both unfair and discriminatory”.

“The procedure followed for determining who should be appointed to the managerial post was unfair and discriminated against the claimant on grounds of pregnancy. The respondents have provided no valid explanation for failing to consider the claimant and for failing to give her any opportunity to apply for a vacant post in the course of a redundancy process,” it says.

“Whilst redundancy was the reason that the claimant’s post was deleted and was the reason for her not having being appointed to another role, the decision to dismiss was not fair because of unfairness and discriminatory conduct within the process.”

Mrs Larkin has been awarded £17,303.20 in compensation, including £10,000 for injury to feelings; £2,418.28  for loss of past earnings and £4,884.92 for loss of future earnings.

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