An employee who was threatened with dismissal after revealing she was pregnant and told she was ‘cheeky’ for requesting annual leave has been awarded a £15k pay out for pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
An employment tribunal in Cambridge heard that Ms King, who had worked as a processing clerk at Northampton-based broker Mortgage Compare since 2016, had received discriminatory comments from company director Mr Dodds and was treated unfavourably before her maternity leave.
In October 2018, King emailed Dodds to inform him she was pregnant and that her baby was expected in March 2019. Dodds did not respond to the email.
About a week later, King requested some holiday leave. Dodds granted her request and during the conversation made reference to her pregnancy for the first time, allegedly stating that she “must have been having some fun lately”.
In November 2018, Dodds invited the claimant to a meeting. He presented her with a letter that said she would be “laid off with immediate effect” and told her that this was because of financial difficulties in the company.
Pregnancy and maternity discrimination cases
The existence of the letter was denied by Dodds at the tribunal hearing, but the tribunal found in the claimant’s favour because another member of staff gave evidence that she had printed the letter at Dodds’ request.
When the claimant informed Dodds that she would be going on maternity leave from March 2019 he took the letter from her and said to her, “that changes everything. I did not know it was so soon”.
The tribunal found that the threat of laying off the claimant was only made as a result of her notifying Dodds that she was pregnant.
On 3 December 2018, King sent an email to Dodds making reference to the letter and her belief that she was “being discriminated against” due to her pregnancy.
Criticisms following pregnancy news
On 4 December 2018 Dodds emailed King to remind her of her working hours and the requirement to take her lunch break between 1pm and 2pm. Dodds added the words “please ensure you leave on time and return by 2pm”. This email was sent without any previous problems with her timekeeping, the tribunal said.
This was followed by a series of criticisms by Dodds regarding her standard of work and accusations of emails not being sent. King also claimed she had been shouted at on various occasions, including one occasion where she was was so upset she had to leave a group video call and went to the toilet in tears.
On 30 January 2019 King met with Dodds to discuss her request to take her 2019 holiday entitlement before she went on maternity leave. Dodds agreed but referred to her request as “cheeky”.
“That was, we consider, an inappropriate comment and was aggravated by the fact that it was the claimant’s last day at work before she took the period of holiday and subsequently went on maternity leave,” the tribunal’s judgment in Miss B King v Mr G Dodds and Mortgage Compare Ltd says.
On her last day, the claimant was denied access to all company computer systems and was required to sit around with nothing to do before being allowed to go home. A witness told the tribunal she had felt uncomfortable with the company’s actions directed towards King that day.
In February 2019, King questioned non-payment of her maternity pay and had to make a number of requests to rectify the shortfalls. Her requests were largely ignored.
She was contacted in April 2019 to say the company would convert all staff to “self-employed status” and was not given any reason for this. She was told she would receive a letter from the company’s solicitor, but when this did not arrive King contacted Dodds to ask for more information. Dodds replied by saying “This doesn’t surprise me. You have been looking for a way to accuse us of this for months”.
The tribunal found that this comment, in addition to the “having fun” and “cheeky” comments and claims about King’s performance, timekeeping and shutting her out of company IT systems, had been unfavourable treatment because of her pregnancy.
“The tribunal is completely satisfied that these acts of unfavourable treatment were carried out by the first and second respondents because the claimant had advised them that she was pregnant and due to take and subsequently did take maternity leave. No lawful or indeed any plausible alternative exists for that treatment,” employment judge Boom’s decision says.
King was awarded £15,009.84 in compensation, including an award for injury to feelings and interest.