ET Rules Pregnant Teacher Faced Discrimination During the Pandemic
In Mrs Charlotte Parton v The Newman Catholic Collegiate, an employment tribunal has ruled in favour of a pregnant teacher. The tribunal held she faced pregnancy discrimination due to attempts to force her back into the classroom during Covid. Below, we discuss exactly what happened in the case and the tribunal’s judgment.
If you believe you’ve experienced circumstances similar to that of the pregnant teacher, read our guide on pregnancy discrimination at work or contact us now. Redmans Solicitors are employment law specialists with many years of experience dealing with similar cases.
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The Facts in Mrs Charlotte Parton v The Newman Catholic Collegiate
Background of the Pregnant Teacher
Mrs Parton (“The Claimant”) began working for The Newman Catholic Collegiate (“The Respondent”) on 1 September 2011. Since the commencement of her employment, she has been based at St Peter’s Catholic Academy as a primary school teacher.
In June 2020, just three months after the government imposed Covid restrictions, the claimant learned she was pregnant. Towards the end of June, Mrs Snee, the school’s headteacher, began encouraging parents to allow their children back to school.
At this time, the pregnant teacher informed Mrs Snee of her pregnancy due to fears about the infection and social distancing. Fortunately for the claimant, parents only returned their children to school in September for the new academic year, when national lockdown restrictions began to ease. This was also when the respondent completed a pregnancy risk assessment concerning the claimant.
In October, Mrs Parton received the assessment, outlining how the respondent understood she was clinically vulnerable and “should work from home wherever possible”. It added that if she had to come in, she should undertake “the safest available on-site role, staying 2 metres away from others wherever possible”. Subsequently, the claimant worked varying amounts in the school until it closed in December due to Tier 4 restrictions.
Mrs Parton Fears for Her Baby’s Safety
On Monday, 4 January 2021, St Peter’s Catholic Academy was due to reopen, but the claimant was anxious about returning. She was 34 weeks pregnant, and government guidance concerning expecting mothers had changed since the pandemic’s inception. Pregnant women weren’t being vaccinated at the time, and Mrs Parton heard of newborns and their mothers suffering serious complications from Covid.
Therefore, on 30 December 2020 at 9:44 pm, Mrs Parton emailed Mrs Snee, forwarding government guidance published only a week earlier. The guidance stated that women who were over 27 weeks pregnant were at a greater risk of severe Covid-related illness. Moreover, the advice outlined that many such individuals would likely require flexible home working to minimise the risk.
As such, Mrs Parton explained that because she was 34 weeks pregnant, she was concerned about her baby’s safety. However, on 3 January, Mrs Snee told the pregnant teacher that official guidance must be followed, attaching their risk assessment.
The Pregnant Teacher Provides a Section 44 Letter
Thereafter, the two corresponded multiple times that day, disagreeing on how best to proceed. Mrs Parton (albeit incorrectly) classified herself as clinically extremely vulnerable, meaning she believed she should work from home or be suspended on full pay, following current guidance. However, Mrs Snee corrected this, explaining a pregnant woman was actually deemed clinically vulnerable and could still attend work.
Despite this, the tribunal understood that women over 27 weeks pregnant were at greater risk, meaning extra care was required. The pregnant teacher emphasised that she was fit to work from home but couldn’t attend the classroom. Conversely, the headteacher stated that the school was as safe as possible and required Mrs Parton to return to school.
Alternatively, Mrs Snee offered to meet in school to suggest risk assessment amendments or enable an early maternity leave. Yet, the claimant believed attending school was unsafe and felt maternity leave was unnecessary since she could work from home. Therefore, after further disagreements, Mrs Parton gave the respondent a letter concerning “Section 44 of the H&S Act”. She detailed that she didn’t believe it was safe for her to return to the classroom because:
- Attending work posed a danger of contracting the coronavirus
- This danger was serious since the infection was potentially fatal, having already killed 73,512 people at the time
- Such danger was imminent due to school-aged children having the highest infection rates at that time
Mrs Snee responded, outlining her disappointment with the claimant’s correspondence. She stated that because Mrs Parton was fit to work, absence from work on 4 January would be considered unauthorised. Following this, the pregnant teacher didn’t attend school that day but did on subsequent days when schools were closed due to growing infection rates.
Deductions are made from the Claimant’s Wages
At the end of the month, the claimant learned her wage included a deduction for the 4 January absence. As a result, Mrs Parton submitted an employment tribunal claim, alleging pregnancy discrimination and unlawful wage deductions under various legislation. This included s.13 and s.44(1A) of the Employment Rights Act 1996, s.18(2)(a) of the Equality Act 2010 and Regulation 19(1) of the Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999.
The Employment Tribunal’s Judgment
The tribunal began by establishing the claimant’s belief at the time she decided not to attend work on 4 January. They held Mrs Parton believed she was required to work in the classroom that day, following communication with Mrs Snee.
Furthermore, they ruled the claimant believed she was in serious and imminent danger from Covid infections. They added that this was a reasonable belief since social distancing guidance couldn’t be followed on the school’s premises. Therefore, they stated her only reasonable means of averting such danger was by not attending work, making her actions appropriate.
Upon coming to this conclusion, the tribunal found the respondent had subjected Mrs Parton to a detriment through unlawful wage deductions. Moreover, they ruled the actions of the school amounted to unfavourable treatment because of the Claimant’s pregnancy, and that she had therefore been subjected to pregnancy discrimination.
The Employment Tribunal ordered a remedy hearing to be held at a later date.
Our employment lawyers’ comments on the case
Chris Hadrill, partner in the employment team at Redmans, commented on the case: “Employers should take great care to treat pregnant employees in a reasonable and non-discriminatory manner, as a failure to do so can potentially be painful for the employees involved, embarrassing, and expensive.”
Claiming with Redmans
If you have faced discrimination like the pregnant teacher above, contact Redmans Solicitors today. We are specialists in employment law and could assess your eligibility to claim compensation. What’s more, we understand everyone’s situation is different, so we offer various funding options to ensure we meet your needs.
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