In the case of Ms F Dolcy v Beautiful Body Company UK Ltd 201910/2020, the Employment Tribunal held that the Claimant should be awarded over £70,000 after her employer tried to demote her for requesting to work part-time after the birth of her baby.
The factual background in Dolcy v Beautiful Body Company UK Ltd
Ms F Dolcy commenced her employment with Beautiful Body Company UK On 22 September 2015 as a senior receptionist at the St John’s Wood clinic. During the course of her employment, she argued she had been subjected to discriminatory treatment and made the following allegations:
- The employer was critical of the claimant’s clothing and makeup whilst she was pregnant;
- She was being excluded from performing certain tasks and activities;
- No action was taken in relation to the claimant’s grievance of 12 January 2019;
- The employer had failed to review or award her a salary increase;
- The employer had appointed Ms De Leon to the claimants role of FOH manager in September 2019.
In April 2017 Ms Dolcy was promoted from senior receptionist to front of house (FOH) manager. In this new role, she was required to abide by a number of general principles including wearing a dress uniform, makeup daily, and hair and nails neatly cared for. In May 2018 Ms Dolcy became pregnant with her first child and a few months later she informed the St John’s Wood clinic manager, Ms Y Addo, about her pregnancy.
During the summer of 2018, Ms Dolcy could no longer wear the makeup required by the dress code as pollen stuck to the makeup and exacerbated her hay fever symptoms. The prescription medication she required to treat this condition was unsuitable during pregnancy. Furthermore, she was not provided with a maternity uniform and eventually purchased her own maternity trousers and top for which the company reimbursed her. Around this time Ms G Hewitt, the regional assistant manager, began to make remarks towards the claimant stating that she looked scruffy and tired.
On 12 January 2019 Ms Dolcy sent an email to Ms S Lund, the new regional manager, copied to Ms Addo which raised a grievance against a member of staff. Ms Dolcy alleged that the conduct towards her by the staff member was extremely rude, cold and unprofessional and that she was being isolated from certain FOH manager duties. The claimant stated that this conduct had resulted in her feeling uneasy and stressed and that having to work in a hostile environment was having a negative effect on her pregnancy.
On 1 February 2019, Ms Dolcy went on maternity leave and in September 2019 Ms De Leon, a senior receptionist was appointed to the FOH manager role. Ms De Leon’s employment contract did not refer to the appointment being temporary or a maternity cover. Mr V Fieldgrass, a director of the company, argued that had the claimant come back to the FOH position Ms De Leon would have been moved to a different location, yet there was no documentation of this.
In October 2019, Ms Dolcy’s mother experienced heart problems and as the claimant’s maternity leave was nearing its end she became concerned over her mother’s fitness to look after the baby. On 5 November 2019 Ms Dolcy received a WhatsApp message from Ms V Negrea, regional manager of the respondent, subsequently general manager, asking for confirmation of her return to work date, to which she replied that she wanted to take one year of maternity leave. On 21 November 2019 Ms Dolcy emailed Ms Negrea explaining that she was having childcare problems because her mother was ill and could not provide childcare whilst she was recovering. She then met with Ms Negrea to discuss some proposals to return on reduced hours whilst her mum was still in recovery and based on evidence provided, Ms Negrea seemed to respond positively.
On 30 November 2019 Ms Dolcy emailed Mrs E Fieldgrass, the company founder, and Mr Fieldgrass, to enquire about her part-time work request and raised a query about the fact that she had not received holiday pay. She alleged that she had had an agreement with Ms Addo about receiving holiday pay during her maternity leave once her Statutory Maternity Pay ran out. On 5 December 2019, after receiving no response to her previous email, Ms Dolcy emailed Ms Negrea, Mrs E and Mr V Fieldgrass a formal flexible working request with suggestions for a working pattern and job functions to accommodate her child care needs.
On 6 December 2019 Ms Negrea wrote back to Ms Dolcy rejecting the flexible working request stating that the options she had provided were not in line with the needs and requirements of the clinic. Ms Dolcy wrote to appeal the decision and emphasised again that it was only a temporary arrangement and she would be expecting to return to full-time duties when her family situation changed. On 28 January 2020, having not heard anything about her appeal and with her date for return from maternity leave imminent, Ms Dolcy submitted a grievance, raising the following concerns:
- Lack of appeal hearing regarding her flexible working request
- The failure to communicate effectively with her has now left inadequate time to arrange appropriate childcare arrangements
- The failure to try to resolve matters or communicate with due diligence were grounds for discrimination under section 18 of the Equality Act 2010.
On 3 February 2020 Ms Dolcy attended an appeal meeting with Mr Fieldgrass. At this meeting, Ms Dolcy suggested a set rota system so she could make adequate childcare arrangements. The claimant also asked to not be on opening rota alone in case there were unforeseen circumstances such as childcare problems or child sickness which would render her unable to open the clinic on time. On 14 February 2020, Mr Fieldgrass sent Ms Dolcy a contract for a permanent part-time senior receptionist role, working Friday and Saturday. The Claimant responded that she thought she had made it clear that the part-time work would be temporary and that effectively this role would be a demotion.
On 3 March 2020 Mr Fieldgrass issued Ms Dolcy an ultimatum stating that she had until 11 March 2020 to respond to his query of whether she was returning to the senior receptionist role, her full-time role or was resigning. On 11 March 2020 Ms Dolcy responded to Mr Fieldgrass stating that as she had repeatedly made efforts to engage with Mr Fieldgrass about returning to work temporarily as a part-time FOH manager and he had not engaged she believed she had been constructively dismissed.
The Employment Tribunal decision
The Employment Tribunal found that Mr Fieldgrass did not fairly consider the request made by Ms Dolcy to continue her work at the clinic on a temporary part-time basis. It was apparent from the evidence that he had not given it any consideration at all and subsequently used the appeal hearing as a forum for the claimant to ‘sell herself’. Subsequently, they also found that the claimant had been discriminated against prior to her maternity leave, her grievance had not been addressed, she had not had a pay review or pay rise due to the fact she was on maternity leave and she was offered a demoted role on a seemingly permanent basis. Therefore, the Employment Tribunal upheld the claimant’s claim of unfair dismissal.
Discrimination arising from pregnancy and maternity
The Employment Tribunal had to consider whether the claimant was treated unfavourably contrary to Section 18 of the Equality Act 2010 and it found that she had. The criticism of Ms Dolcy for matters that were not her fault, being unable to wear makeup and not having the appropriate uniform, were clearly unfavourable treatment. The Employment Tribunal accepted that Ms Dolcy was excluded from certain tasks and duties at work and was not provided a pay raise that had she not been on maternity, she would have certainly received. The appointment of Ms De Leon to the claimant’s role was also found to be unfavourable treatment due to the fact that nothing about the appointment suggested it to be temporary. Based on these finding’s Ms Dolcy’s claim of discrimination was also successful.
The Employment Tribunal awarded Ms Dolcy £73,343.78 as compensation, comprised of:
- Basic Award: £2,103.08
- Unlawful deduction from wages: £129
- Injury to feelings: £25,000
- Loss of earnings and maternity pay: £35,585.28
- Loss of pension: £865.64
- Loss of statutory rights: £500
- Interest: £5,505.83
Our lawyers’ view on Ms F Dolcy v Beautiful Body Company UK Ltd
Rebekka Kreisz, paralegal at Redmans comments on this case: “This case is a textbook example of an employer not willing to be flexible to accommodate the return to work of an employee following maternity leave. Ms Dolcy clearly had good reason to propose a working pattern that would meet her changing circumstances, when her initial plans for child-care had to be re-thought due to her mother’s heart condition. The fact that the Employment Tribunal were of the same view is a reassuring outcome to this case as there should be no room for unfavourable treatment of mothers in today’s working world.”
The decision of the Employment Tribunal in F Dolcy v Beautiful Body Company UK Ltd 201910/2020 can be found here.