Employment and an Egregious Case of Pregnancy/Maternity Discrimination

Employers who discriminate against pregnant women or new mothers can expect to reap a bitter harvest of financial and reputational damage. An Employment Tribunal (ET) made that point in describing a woman's suspension and dismissal whilst on maternity leave as one of the most egregious acts of discrimination possible (Slade and Another v Biggs and Another).

The woman's boss viewed it as highly inconvenient when she and another employee became pregnant at roughly the same time, and decided to engineer their departure. Not much more than a week before she gave premature birth to her child, she was accused of misconduct and suspended. She was still recovering from the delivery when she was dismissed, purportedly on grounds of gross misconduct.

The ET found that she was subjected to an entirely spurious and vindictive process that was designed to drive her from her job. She was given no detail of the trumped-up charges against her; there was no hearing and she was given no right of appeal. During part of the blatantly unfair process, her baby was in intensive care.

Her suspension when she was in the advanced stages of pregnancy was designed to have maximum effect upon her. Payment of her wages was delayed in the hope that she would resign. In an attempt to somehow avoid liability for maternity pay, the date of her dismissal was spuriously back-dated to the day before she gave birth. Without consultation, her employment was transferred to a company that lacked funds with which to pay her.

The ET described the boss's behaviour when giving evidence as arrogant and misogynistic. Prompted by a desire to throw some dirt at the woman, he made wide-ranging, lurid and entirely fanciful allegations against her and her relatives. A senior manager, whilst doing the boss's bidding, was considered by the ET to be equally to blame for the woman's treatment.

The woman's employer, her boss and the manager were ruled jointly and severally liable for the acts of pregnancy or maternity discrimination she endured. The ET also found that her dismissal was unfair and that there had been a failure to comply with the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006. She had not received four days' holiday pay. Overall, she was awarded more than £90,000 in compensation, including £25,200 for injury to her feelings.

After the award was challenged, various issues were resolved by agreement or otherwise. It was, amongst other things, agreed that the boss and the manager were not personally liable in respect of the unfair dismissal and holiday pay awards. A modest downward amendment was also made in the light of a calculation error made by the ET. All live issues that came before the Employment Appeal Tribunal were, however, resolved in the woman's favour.