In the case of Gooding v The Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company Ltd: 3401365/2016 the Employment Tribunal held that Ms Gooding had been subjected to discrimination when her role was made redundant when she went on a period of maternity leave.
The facts in Gooding v The Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company Ltd
Ms Gooding commenced employment with The Flexistowe Dock and Railway Company Ltd (“the Company”) on 25 June 2012 as a full-time Pensions and Payroll Assistant.
On 14 September 2015 Ms Gooding informed the Company that she was pregnant. She commenced maternity leave on or about 7 December 2015 and it was intended that she return to work on 1 October 2016. A temporary worker was recruited to cover her pension duties whilst she was away but this person was only required to work part-time (initially 3 days per week and then 2 days per week); no-one was recruited to undertake her payroll duties.
On 12 July 2016 Ms Wilkes and Ms Gooding had at telephone conversation. In this telephone conversation Ms Gooding was told that she would be able to come into work for a Keeping In Touch (“KIT”) day, but that she would not be able to undertake payroll duties on said date. On 14 July 2016 Ms Gooding wrote to Ms Wilkies to ask why she had been told not to come into work for her KIT day to do the payroll.
Whilst Ms Gooding was on maternity leave it was decided by Mr Seaman ([POSITION]) that Ms Gooding’s role was to be altered to that of only a pensions-focused role.
On 20 July 2016 there was a meeting between Mark Duffield, Mr Ashbee (Human Resources), and Ms Wilkes. In this meeting Ms Gooding was told that when she returned to work she would be offered two days per week in ‘Pensions’, and that there were no resource requirements in Payroll.
On 21 July 2016 Ms Gooding wrote to Mr Ashbee to ask what the position was to be were she to return to work full-time. Mr Ashbee wrote back by email on the same date to state that he was surprised that she was considering returning to work full-time as this had not been put forward as an option at the meeting the day before. Mr Ashbee again wrote to Ms Gooding on 22 July 2016 to state that she could be offered a full-time position but only as Pensions Assistant (5 days per week).
On 2 August 2016 Ms Gooding replied, taking issue with the fact that she had been verbally advised that there was no position available in Payroll but that this had not been stated in the letter.
On 10 August 2016 Ms Gooding again asked if she could return to work full-time, but confirmed that she understood that she may not be able to return to Payroll. She asked for her options to be confirmed so she could make her choices. Ms Wilkes confirmed in reply on the same day that she would address Ms Gooding’s concerns in an email that was scheduled to take place on 17 August 2016.
On 16 August 2016 Ms Gooding submitted her notice of resignation and confirmed that she would not be attending the meeting the next day. In her letter of resignation Ms Gooding confirmed that she believed she was not being allowed to return to her former role, that she felt passionate about her role in Payroll, and that working solely in Pensions would be “mundane and de-skilling”.
Ms Gooding subsequently brought claims for breach of Regulation 10 of the Maternity and Paternity Leave Regulations 1999 (“MPL Regulations”), constructive dismissal, and maternity discrimination (section 18(4) Equality Act 2010), among others.
Gooding v The Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company Ltd
The Employment Tribunal held that there was a redundancy situation and that the Company had breached Regulation 10 by failing to consider suitable alternative employment for her at the Company or even consulting with her. The Tribunal therefore also held that there must have been a breach of section 18(4) of the Equality Act 2010 – it had been decided before she went on maternity leave that the Company did not need her position any longer after she went on maternity leave.
The Employment Tribunal also held that Ms Gooding had been constructively dismissed – her duties had been unilaterally altered without any form of re-organisation or redundancy and this amounted to a fundamental breach of contract. Ms Gooding had accepted this breach and resigned.
Our solicitors’ views on Gooding v The Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company Ltd
Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “Employers must make sure that, if they wish to make employees who are on maternity leave redundant, they undertake a fair consultation process and they at least consider whether there is any suitable alternative employment vacant that the relevant employee(s) can be slotted into – a failure to take these basic steps will constitute (at the least) a breach of regulation 10 of the Maternity and Paternal Leave Regulations 1999.”
The judgment of the Employment Tribunal can be found here.