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16 December 2015 0 Comments
Posted in Opinion

Royds client wins unfair dismissal claim

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A pregnant mum who was made redundant because she had to leave work on time to collect her child from nursery has won her claims for unfair dismissal and sex discrimination.

Watford Employment Tribunal heard that Fidessa Plc unlawfully excluded Wendi Lancaster from a new job which would have saved her from redundancy by insisting that she carry out duties after hours.

The tribunal also heard how its global manager, Deepa Tumber, swore when he discovered that Mrs Lancaster was pregnant, and made inappropriate and offensive comments in an email exchange about a mother’s breast to her female colleagues.

Employment Partner at Royds Solicitors, said: “Mrs Lancaster is thrilled with the judgment even though this has been a very distressing time for her.  Mrs Lancaster was pregnant with her second child when she was unfairly dismissed from Fidessa Plc.  She spent  what should have been a special time bonding with her new born baby,  challenging the unlawful and discriminatory conduct of her employer – a major IT company.”  

The Employment Tribunal was told that Mrs Lancaster worked from 9am to 5pm four days a week as an IT Connectivity Operations Engineer following her return from maternity leave at Fidessa’s headquarters in Woking, Surrey.     She had agreed with her manager that she could leave on time to collect her child from nursery.    However after she returned to work,   Mr Tumber put pressure on her to carry out certain duties after 5pm.   Fidessa refused Mrs Lancaster’s request to swap these duties with a colleague, and also refused to allow her to do them at home.    The tribunal was told that a few months later in November 2014, Mrs Lancaster and her line manager were put at risk of redundancy.   Mr Tumber offered Mrs Lancaster, who was by then pregnant with her second child,   a new engineering role but stated that a key function had to be carried out after 5pm.   Mrs Lancaster complained that the redundancy situation had been manufactured due to her pregnancy and that Fidessa knew she could not accept the alternative role because she had to leave work promptly.

The Employment Tribunal also heard how Mr Tumber had earlier that year sworn out loud when he was informed of Mrs Lancaster’s pregnancy.   Mrs Lancaster had requested a day’s holiday to attend an antennal scan on July 4th 2014.  Mrs Lancaster’s line manager approved the holiday and confirmed there were sufficient resources to cover her absence.

Mrs Lancaster told the Employment Tribunal:  “I was in the early stages of pregnancy and had not at that stage wanted to inform the Respondent about my pregnancy.  When Mr Tumber found out about my request for annual leave he instructed my line manager to withdraw permission, even when he was informed it was to attend a hospital appointment.”

Mrs Lancaster told the tribunal that her manager was forced to explain to Mr Tumber that she was in the early stages of pregnancy and that she required the day off to attend a hospital appointment. “Mr Tumber became angry and swore “Oh f..k – She’s pregnant.”

Ms Lancaster said:  “When I discovered Mr Tumber’s outburst about my pregnancy I was shocked. He did not say congratulations as I would have expected.  I could not understand how someone could say something like that. “

Mr Tumber admitted swearing regularly at work, and that he engaged in banter “with the guys.”  The Employment Tribunal heard how on another occasion he sent colleagues a bizarre email in which he replied to an invitation to eat lobster: “Only from your mother’s left breast.”  He further stated he had it “on camera”.   The tribunal was told that he was not disciplined for his email when it was brought to his employer’s attention.

In his Judgment, Judge Ryan said: “No doubt Mr Tumber considered that this was normal banter. In our judgment it is beyond argument that the comment was objectively offensive to a woman receiving the email.”   The tribunal said Mr Tumber went on to compound his insulting comment by stating that he had a picture of the scene.

Mrs Lancaster’s claims of unfair dismissal, direct and indirect sex discrimination, and breach of the part time worker’s regulations were upheld.  The tribunal however did not uphold Mrs Lancaster’s claim that she was dismissed because of her pregnancy.

For more information on our employment law services or advice on restrictive covenants please visit our contact our expert Employment & HR team.

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