In the case of Larkin v Liz Earle Beauty Co Ltd ET/1403400/2018 the Employment Tribunal found that a female employee had been discriminated against (because of her pregnancy) and unfairly dismissed, awarding her almost £18,000 in compensation.
The facts in Larkin v Liz Earle Beauty Co Ltd
Mrs. Helen Larkin (the ‘Claimant’) commenced work with Liz Earle Beauty Co Ltd (the ‘Respondent’) on 29 April 2013. Her job role was as Channel Marketing Manager within the Respondent’s digital team. She worked for the Respondent for around 5 years continuously.
In January 2018 the Claimant told her manager Katie Johnson that she was pregnant (she was about three months’ pregnant at this time). Ms Johnson contacted HR on 24 January 2018 to ask about the maternity process and the HR assistant, Anna Attrill, wrote to the Claimant to set out the process that should be followed (such as, for example, a risk assessment), as well as other matters, the same day.
Also in January 2018 Julie Slaymaker was employed as a Digital Strategist and Consultant. Part of Ms Slaymaker’s role was to review the digital marketing department within which the Claimant was employed, and her main role was to carry out a review of the business. Ms Slaymaker first met with the Claimant in early February 2018. She told the Claimant at this meeting that she wanted the Claimant to work on the strategy for the email channel and also told the Claimant that she had plans to expand this area of work. The Claimant was given the impression there would be great opportunities for her going forward, and she left the meeting feeling very positive about her future with the company.
At around this time Ms Johnson had carried out an appraisal for the Claimant and had assessed the Claimant’s abilities and skills as being at grade 4 which was a level indicating that she was achieving and exceeding in all areas. The appraisal reflected the fact that the Claimant had five years’ experience in the business and, overall, was viewed as a glowing appraisal. Taken together with the positive meeting with Ms Slaymaker in February 2018 would have meant that at that at this time, the Claimant would have felt she was in a strong position within the business going forward, for any changes that may take place.
After Ms Slaymaker was told of the Claimant’s pregnancy later in February 2018 she appeared to lose interest in the Claimant and arranged no further meetings her.
On the 19 March 2018, Ms Johnson gave in her notice of termination to the Respondent. Ms Johnson’s team members were not formally notified of Ms Johnson’s resignation and no further information was provided to them. At or around this time Ms Slaymaker was drafting plans to restructure the business and the restructuring planning process was in an advanced stage. Within this structure, the job that the Claimant was doing would be deleted along with three other roles; the Claimant’s role would therefore be made redundant (and the Claimant put at risk of redundancy), with her responsibilities redistributed within the business.
On 30 May 2018 the Claimant had her first individual redundancy consultation meeting (this meeting followed a group consultation meeting which took place on 29 May 2018). The Claimant was not made aware of the vacant manager’s role (Ms Johnson’s old role) and she was not therefore given the opportunity to apply for it.
On 20 April 2018 Ms Slaymaker indicated to the organisation that she had somebody in mind for the managerial post and sought approval for the post to be filled. An external person was recruited on 17 May 2018. By the time the Claimant was told that she was at risk of redundancy (on 30 May 2018) it was therefore the case that the managerial role was no longer vacant and the Claimant could not ask to be considered for it. The delay in the consultation meant there was no opportunity for the Claimant to apply for vacant post.
The Claimant applied for another post of Marketing Effectiveness Manager (along with another displaced internal candidate). In order to progress the process of selection to this post, Julie Slaymaker arranged for a test as part of the selection process. This was described as a gateway test, which the candidates had to pass meeting a specified level in order to be considered for further selection for the post. The Claimant and her colleague both took the test on 8 June 2018. The Claimant took the test whilst 8 months pregnant and clearly i discomfort. She did not meet the specifed level set by the Respondent. She was under significant pressure from the organisation both in terms of maintaining her existing workload, developing handover notes and trying to deal with looking for alternative work and preparing for the internal test. An external candidate, Tom Browning was appointed to the role but no evidence was found later to indicate he had taken any similar test before being interviewed for the role.
The decision of the Employment Tribunal
The Employment Tribunal found that the Claimant had been discriminated against on grounds of pregnancy and maternity contrary to section 18 of the Equality Act 2010, and that she had been unfairly dismissed.
The Tribunal decided but for the unfairness and/or the unlawful discrimination, there was a 50% chance that the Claimant would have remained in the Respondent’s employment. The Respondent was therefore ordered to pay compensation to the Claimant as follows :-
- Past loss of earnings £2,418.28
- Compensation for future loss of earnings £4,884.92
- Injury to feeling award of £10,000.00
The total award payable to the Claimant amounted to £17,303.20.
Our lawyers’ views on the case
Mel Chin, a lawyer at Redmans, commented on the case: “The Employment Tribunal found in this case that there had been a clear shift of attitude towards the Claimant prior to her pregnancy (when there was a positive view of her performance) and after (when she was selected for redundancy). No valid explanation was provided by the Respondents on why they had not considered the Claimant for the role, or giving her the opportunity to apply for a vacant post as part of the redundancy exercise, and this is a salutary lesson for employers is to ensure they apply a fair and transparent redundancy process that is not discriminatory.”
The Employment Tribunal decision in the case of Larkin v Liz Earle Beauty Co Ltd ET/1403400/2018 can be found here.