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Mrs Shipp informed colleagues in February 2019 that she was pregnant. Various comments were made by male colleagues following her announcement, including a suggestion that colleagues bet on how much weight she gained. Mrs Shipp commenced maternity leave thereafter. Subsequently, she was made redundant while on maternity leave after rejecting a different role that carried a reduction in salary of £20,000.

Mrs Shipp brought various claims in the Employment Tribunal including for discrimination.  Were Mrs Shipp’s various claims in the Employment Tribunal successful?

Mrs S Shipp (nee Canning) v CitySprint (UK) Limited

In September 2010, Mrs Shipp’s employment with the Respondent, CitySprint, began. She was promoted to Marketing Director in July 2016, and received a salary increase to £100,000, which took effect from January 2018.

In 2018, CitySprint’s financial position was perilous and was in danger of breaching its banking covenants. As a result, in an effort to reduce expenditure and provide reassurance to lenders, CitySprint asked senior employees if they would temporarily reduce their salaries. Mrs Shipp duly obliged and agreed to a 20% reduction in her salary for three months between March and May 2018.

Mrs Shipp was again promoted in October 2018 when she gained membership of the Group Executive team. As part of this promotion, her job title was altered to Group Marketing Director, although there was no pay rise, nor was there any material change to her day-to-day responsibilities.

After announcing her pregnancy in February 2019, inappropriate comments were made prior to her going on maternity leave between February – May 2019. The Tribunal heard that Mrs Shipp was asked when she had stopped taking contraception and asked for her thoughts on how her long-term career prospects would be impacted by her pregnancy. Furthermore, Mrs Shipp was asked by the CEO whether her pregnancy was planned. The CEO also suggested that the executive team “should put a wager on how much weight she would put on”. It was ultimately decided by Mrs Shipp not to submit a formal complaint, due to concerns about beginning maternity leave in midst of this issue, but Mrs Shipp was nonetheless offended and humiliated and raised the issue on an informal basis with HR. Mrs Shipp commenced maternity leave in June 2019.

Separately, against the backdrop of inappropriate comments, CitySprint felt that further cost savings could be made, and in 2019, undertook a restructure of its senior management team. Mrs Shipp was informed that her role was at risk of redundancy in September 2019. Interestingly, the Tribunal heard that other “employees who had lost their Group Executive positions but had been retained in different roles (Paul Gisbourne and Darren Taylor) did not have their salaries reduced.” Conversely, Mrs Shipp was offered a Director of Marketing role with a 20% salary reduction. Mrs Shipp’s view was the new role was the same as her old role, and the process was not a real redundancy situation.

Mrs Shipp submitted a grievance without success in December 2019, with an unsuccessful grievance appeal hearing in February 2020. After being provided with notice of termination in late March 2020, incidentally coinciding with the start of the first Covid lockdown, Mrs Shipp’s employment ended in September 2020.

Lodging two separate claim forms presented in February and July 2020, Mrs Shipp brought various claims against CitySprint, including unfair dismissal, pregnancy/maternity discrimination, indirect sex discrimination, victimisation and breach of contract.

 

Decision

The Tribunal unanimously ruled that all of Mrs Shipp’s claims, save for victimisation, were well-founded.

Mrs Shipp was awarded £30,000 (including £5,000 interest) for injury to feelings due to the discrimination.

The Judge remarked that there was a deliberate attempt to make the offered role “unattractive to the Claimant so that she would refuse it”. Moreover, the Tribunal also said that the majority of Mrs Shipp’s time on maternity leave “was spent fighting to try to maintain her job”. This, according to the Tribunal, was such an ordeal for Mrs Shipp that “there cannot be anything worse for a woman on maternity leave”. As a result, the conclusion reached by the Tribunal was that “this was a serious case of maternity discrimination”.

Comment

This successful claim should serve as a reminder that there remains work to be done in preventing inappropriate comments on the basis of pregnancy. Inappropriate conduct in isolation is already damaging, but in this particular case, various comments were made by several colleagues, raising questions about the culture of the senior employees.

Furthermore, employers should ensure that contact is maintained with employees on leave, whether it be sick leave or maternity leave, especially in circumstances that may lead to a change in an employee’s job security.

Baines Wilson is available to deliver in-house bespoke workshops and training on conduct in the workplace, and employers should not hesitate to get in touch if interested.

If you have any queries relating to maternity leave, redundancies, discrimination or you have any other Employment Law or HR queries, please do not hesitate to contact our Employment team on 01228 552600 or 01524 548494.

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