Female employee dismissed because of her pregnancy (Doyle v Associated Training Solutions Ltd)

In the case of Doyle v Associated Training Solutions Ltd 2405460/2016  the Employment Tribunal held that Ms Doyle had been automatically unfairly dismissed and discriminated against when she was dismissed by her employer because she was pregnant.

The facts in Doyle v Associated Training Solutions Ltd

Ms Doyle commenced employment with Associated Training Solutions Ltd (“ATS”), a company which provides training for apprentices in the hairdressing industry, on 4 November 2014. Stephen Harrison was a director of ATS at all material times and Andrew Harrison was Business Director from late 2014.

In or about May 2016 Ms Doyle discovered that she was pregnant. She told a friend and colleague, but did not wish to disclose her condition to anyone else at work until after her 12-week scan.

On 14 June 2016 Ms Doyle disclosed to Mr Fairbrother that she was pregnant, but also asked him to keep this to himself as she was not ready to tell her colleagues yet (as she was only 7.5 weeks into her pregnancy).

On 5 July 2016 Ms Doyle discovered from Ms Gudgeon that Mr Fairbrother had told the Head of Operations (Yvonne Ellis) that she was pregnant. She also discovered that Ms Ellis had, on 4 July 2016, told Ms Gudgeon that she was not to be offered a work-based placement because of “the situation” (but Ms Gudgeon would be offered such). Ms Doyle subsequently discovered on 13 July 2016 that Mr Fairbrother had told other colleagues about her pregnancy.

Upon her return to work from a period of holiday Ms Doyle became concerned that Mr Fairbrother had made comments that implied that Ms Doyle should only take a short period of maternity leave, and that her impending maternity leave would be an issue for ATS.

On 22 September 2016 Ms Doyle had a discussion with a colleague, Luke Shaw, at lunch time in the staff room. In this discussion Mr Shaw told Ms Doyle that one of the students that he was responsible for (“DH”) had asked for more time to complete his course as he had recently seen the dead body of a 16-year-old boy who had committed suicide. Ms Doyle did not teach DH but told Mr Shaw that it was her opinion that DH should be given more time to complete the course, but further consideration would be needed.

On 29 September 2016 Mr Shaw told DH of the conversation that he had had with Ms Doyle, and stated to DH that Ms Doyle had implied that DH was weak for taking two weeks off from school after the incident, and that Ms Doyle had suggested that he was “milking it for paid time off work”. DH subsequently complained about this conversation and Mr Fairbrother questioned Mr Shaw about the incident. Mr Shaw stated that Ms Doyle had said that DH was “milking the system”, everyone had seen a dead body, and that DH was weak and should “man up”. Mr Shaw acknowledged that his own conduct in passing these comments on to DH was unprofessional.

On 4 October 2016 Mr Fairbrother suspended Ms Doyle from work based on the grievance that DH had raised, and she was told that a formal investigation would take place. No details of the allegations were given. Mr Shaw was not suspended from work or told to keep away from work.

On 6 October 2016 Ms Doyle raised a complaint regarding the manner in which she had been treated, suggesting that her suspension from work may be an act of discrimination.

An investigation was carried out and a grievance hearing (regarding DH’s grievance) was carried out on 7 October 2016. Ms Doyle was not invited to this hearing, nor given the chance to raise any representations regarding it, but a decision was made by Mr Fairbrother that Ms Doyle should be dismissed.

On 11 October 2016 Mr Fairbrother informed Mr Shaw that his services would no longer be required, and on 12 October 2016 he wrote to Ms Doyle to inform her that she was being dismissed for gross misconduct as a result of DH’s complaint. Ms Doyle subsequently appealed her dismissal but her appeal was rejected without an appeal hearing being held.

ATS did not carry out any risk assessment, or offer to carry out such, once it was made aware that she was pregnant.

Ms Doyle subsequently brought Employment Tribunal claims for unfair dismissal and pregnancy discrimination.

The decision of the Employment Tribunal in Doyle v Associated Training Solutions Ltd

The Employment Tribunal held that the reason, or principal reason, for Ms Doyle’s dismissal was her pregnancy for the following reasons (among others):

  1. Mr Fairbrother had made comments about Ms Doyle needing to return to work early from her period of maternity leave;
  2. That Mr Fairbrother and Mr Harrison believed that Ms Doyle should not be paid statutory maternity pay after her dismissal, and the Tribunal inferred from this that ATS’s thought process was that they would save on maternity pay if they dismissed Ms Doyle
  3. The difference in treatment between Mr Shaw and Ms Doyle – he was not suspended at all, there was no mention of his dismissal being because of misconduct on his part, and he was never told that he had engaged in misconduct
  4. Differences in ATS’s defence as to what the reason for Ms Doyle’s dismissal was, and the evidence that Mr Fairbrother gave to the Tribunal as to the reasons for Ms Doyle’s dismissal

The Tribunal therefore found that Ms Doyle’s claims that her dismissal was automatically unfair (under section 99 Employment Rights Act 1996) and discriminatory (under section 18 Equality Act 2010) therefore succeeded. The Tribunal also held that Ms Doyle’s dismissal was wrongful.

The Tribunal also held that the following conduct was also discriminatory:

  • Mr Fairbrother’s comments when Ms Doyle had disclosed her pregnancy
  • Ms Doyle not being allowed to carry out work-based placements

The Tribunal ordered that a remedy hearing be held in order to determine compensation (unless the parties could agreed settlement terms).

Our solicitors’ view on Doyle v Associated Training Solutions Ltd

Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “Employers must ensure that disciplinaries in the workplace are carried out fairly, promptly, and thoroughly, and that employees are given the opportunity to contest the allegations put to them – if the employer fails to carry out these basic steps then this potentially opens up the employer to claims for unfair dismissal, discrimination, and automatic unfair dismissal (as it did in this case).”

The judgment of the Employment Tribunal can be found here.