Employers' what not to say at interview

06 August 2014

£23,000 awarded by Tribunal in a recent pregnancy discrimination case

Ms Nicola McNamee (the Claimant) commenced employment with Melting Moments Bakery on 8 February 2013, following interview on 24 January 2013.  The Claimant alleged that, during her initial interview in January, Ms Millie McWilliams, a proprietor of the bakery, told the Claimant she did not want her falling pregnant or to be married within the next year. Whilst the Claimant advised the Tribunal she was not upset by this comment at the time, she advised Ms McWilliams she was not planning to.

The Claimant worked a few trial days and was appointed as a full time bakery assistant from 8 February 2013. The Respondent alleged that, during the course of the Claimant’s employment, there were issues with her performance which resulted in three separate meetings to discuss same; one on 22 March 2013, the second on 28 March 2013, and the third and final meeting on 5 April 2013. The Respondent alleged that it was at the final meeting the Claimant was advised she could work a “week’s notice with option to leave if she wanted to earlier”. The Claimant denied such meetings took place, and in respect of the 5 April meeting 2013, in the context as alleged.

On 26 March 2013, the Claimant discovered she was pregnant and was off work ill the following day. It was accepted by the Claimant that she did meet with Ms McWilliams on 5 April 2013, but it was during this meeting the Claimant informed Ms McWilliams of her pregnancy – not to discuss issues of her alleged underperformance. The Claimant alleged that, during this meeting, Ms McWilliams intimidated her and advised her that she was pregnant at a young age, as was her daughter, and added that some women are better off on the dole and would give the Claimant until the following week to decide if she wanted to leave her job or not.

The Claimant alleged that:

·  On 8 April 2013, just three days after advising her employer she was pregnant, she was asked to undertake heavier work, which she believed to be unfair because of her pregnancy. However, the Tribunal was not persuaded that said work was a significant change in nature from work she had undertaken previously, or that such work caused the Claimant problems due to her pregnancy;

·  On 9 April 2013, Ms McWilliams approached her, asking if she had thought anymore about what was discussed on 5 April 2013. The Claimant replied she was happy to continue working for the Respondent;

·  On 10 April 2013, Ms McWilliams, with the other proprietor, Mr Ken Neely, present accused the Claimant of working slowly, claimed that anyone else would work with more speed, and advised the Claimant she had to let her go; and

·  The Respondent refused to give the Claimant written reasons for dismissal and/or her contract of employment. On 30 April 2013, the Claimant forwarded a grievance letter to the Respondent, wherein she alleged sexual discrimination and reiterated the comment made by Ms McWilliams at her initial interview. The Respondent replied via its advisors, denying the allegations; a position that it maintained throughout the Tribunal proceedings.

The Claimant advised the Tribunal that, as a consequence of the Respondent’s alleged treatment, she was upset, cried a number of times, and such feelings lasted for a month.

The Tribunal preferred the Claimant’s version of events. The unanimous decision of the Tribunal was that the Claimant was unfairly dismissed and suffered sex discrimination. The Tribunal stated that “the Claimant was a more straightforward witness” and they found “the Claimant a more credible witness”. The Tribunal also stated that “the witnesses on behalf of the Respondent were frequently imprecise, vague, contradictory and constantly couched their answers by what they would have done and would have said” (our emphasis).

The Tribunal was satisfied “that the principle reason, or set of circumstances that gave rise to the Claimant’s dismissal was the fact of her pregnancy” and “that the reason for the Claimant’s dismissal was that she had become pregnant”. The Claimant was awarded a total sum of £23,288.25, £7,500 of which was injury to feelings.

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