A finance worker has won a £15,000 payout after her male boss remarked she ‘must have been having some fun lately’ when she told him she was pregnant. Company director George Dodds initially ignored Bianca King after she told him she was expecting before making the inappropriate comment alluding to her sex life.
He then informed her that she was being sacked before withdrawing the dismissal when she told him she would be taking maternity leave, an employment tribunal heard. Over the following months he started shouting at the mortgage administrator, once reducing her to tears after criticising her in front of colleagues on a video conference call.
Mr Dodds’ treatment of her left Miss King stressed before the birth of her first child and she had to see her GP about her mounting anxiety. The tribunal has now ruled she was the victim of pregnancy discrimination and awarded her £15,009.84 in compensation.
The hearing, held in Cambridge, was told Miss King worked as a processing clerk for Mr Dodd’s Northampton-based firm Mortgage Compare from September 2016. In October 2018 she sent an e-mail to Mr Dodds, telling him she was pregnant and her baby was expected early March 2019. Mr Dodds did not acknowledge the e-mail.
About a week later Miss King requested some holiday leave. Mr Dodds granted this over the phone and acknowledged her pregnancy for the first time, saying to her she ‘must have been having some fun lately’. The tribunal heard Mr Dodds requested a meeting with Miss King at the office in December 2018, at which he gave her a letter stating she was to be ‘laid off with immediate effect’.
Mr Dodds told her the company was having some financial difficulties and could not continue ‘to keep her’. No other employee was given such information.
He then took the letter back when she said she would be going on maternity leave in four months, saying ‘that changes everything. I did not know it was so soon’, the tribunal heard.
Employment Judge Martin Bloom said: “It is evident…that the threat of laying off [Miss King] was only made to her as a result of her notification… that she was pregnant.”
In December 2018 Miss King sent an email to Mr Dodds making reference to the letter and her belief she was ‘being discriminated against’ due to her pregnancy status. The tribunal heard Mr Dodds then started criticising Miss King.
He emailed her about her lunch hours, telling her to ‘please ensure you leave on time and return by 2pm’ despite her timekeeping never having been an issue before.
The tribunal heard he accused her of not sending emails and shouted at her on various occasions. Judge Bloom noted: “This form of behaviour directed to [Miss King] by Mr Dodds had not been in evidence prior to [her] pregnancy. On one such occasion [she] was so upset she had to leave a group video call and went to the toilet in tears.”
In January 2019, Miss King met with Mr Dodds to discuss her request to take her 2019 holiday entitlement before she went on maternity leave. Mr Dodds agreed but referred to her request as ‘cheeky’.
Judge Bloom said: “That was, we consider, an inappropriate comment and was aggravated by the fact that it was [her] last day at work before she took the period of holiday and subsequently went on maternity leave.”
The tribunal heard when Miss King returned to work at the end of January 2019 her computer was shut down, she was denied access to all systems and told she was ‘not required to work’. She was required to sit around for several hours before being allowed to go home.
In February 2019 Miss King tried to contact Mr Dodds about non-payment of her maternity pay but her requests ‘were largely ignored’.
In April 2019 Mr Dodds told Miss King all employees would be converted to ‘self-employed status’. The tribunal heard she e-mailed Mr Dodds asking for more information only to receive a reply which stated: “This doesn’t surprise me. You have been looking for a way to accuse us of this (the termination of her employment) for months.”
Miss King never returned to work for Mr Dodds, the tribunal heard.
Judge Bloom said” “These acts of unfavourable treatment were carried out by [Mr Dodds] because [Miss King] 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.
“We have taken note of the fact that [Miss King] was extremely distressed by the events.
“Her pregnancy was her first pregnancy and she had been very much looking forward to the birth of her child. [She] was undoubtedly not only upset by the events but became stressed.
“Eventually she had to see her General Practitioner and was prescribed medication for anxiety and stress. At a time when she ought to have been looking forward to the birth of her child she had to deal with the events… and a subsequent deterioration in her health.”