Female employee wins pregnancy discrimination claim after being dismissed (Ms T Donaldson v Helan Greenhalf trading as Roundhills Kennels Cattery ET2402454/2019)

In the case of Donaldson v Helan Greenhalf trading as Roundhills Kennels Cattery ET2402454/2019 an Employment Tribunal held that an employee had been discriminated against when she was dismissed because she had informed her employee that she was pregnant.

The facts in Ms T Donaldson v Helan Greenhalf trading as Roundhills Kennels Cattery

Ms T Donaldson (the ‘Claimant’) commenced employment as a part-time kennel cleaner with Roundhills Kennels Cattery (the ‘Respondent’) on 4 June 2018.  During the Claimant’s probation period some conduct and capability issues arose – these included her timekeeping, causing some minor injury to one of the dogs, and failing to wash dogs and clean their water bowls. These were treated as minor incidents by the Respondent and no formal disciplinary action was taken.

In August 2018 the Respondent was visited by the licensing officer at Barrow-in-Furness Borough Council who was responsible for regulating businesses such as the Respondents and providing the relevant licences to enable them to continue to operate. The licensing officer discussed a matter arising from the introduction of The Animal Welfare (Licensing of animals) (England) Regulations 2018 (‘The Regulations’).The Regulations would introduce a star rating system using a specific matrix which would  put pressure on kennels and catteries to ensure that their premises were as fit for purpose as possible. The highest rating was 5 stars which the Respondent was keen to achieve, but this would require greater expense getting the cattery and kennels refurbished to comply with the Regulations. The Claimant was the sole employee at the site.

A meeting took place between the Respondent and the Claimant on 12 October 2018 where the Respondent was told by the Claimant that she was 10 week’s Pregnant. 

On 15 October 2018, the Respondent met with the Claimant and informed her they would not be able to retain her because of her pregnancy. The Respondent thought it was too dangerous for her to continue working due to the dangers caused by slippery surfaces and other health and safety concerns (the tribunal noted that this was a surprising reaction as the Claimant was only 10 week’s pregnant when she informed the Respondent).  No discussion took place on arranging a risk assessment for the Claimant. The Respondent did not mention the possibility of her employment being terminated, whether by reason of redundancy or other reasons, until after the Respondent became aware of the Claimant’s pregnancy.

The Claimant did not receive a letter of dismissal following the termination of her employment and on 6 November 2018 she was forced to write to the Respondent seeking confirmation from her as to the reasons for her dismissal.  The Respondent eventually replied on 21 November 2018 simply describing the Claimant as being ‘no longer required’.  There was no mention of redundancy, but the Respondent clearly did not dispute that the Claimant had not been dismissed on 15 October 2018.  The Respondent later attempted to argue redundancy was discussed with the Claimant but the Employment Tribunal saw no convincing evidence to support this at the hearing.

The Claimant presented a claim to the Employment Tribunal on 1 March 2019. She brought complaints of ordinary unfair dismissal, automatic unfair dismissal by reason of her pregnancy, discrimination on grounds of her pregnancy (and also direct sex discrimination), unpaid wages, failure to provide itemised pay statements and a failure to provide a statement of particulars.

The decision of the Employment Tribunal

The Claim was heard at the Manchester Employment Tribunal  on 16 and 17 January 2021.

Unfair dismissal

The Employment Tribunal found that the claimant did not have a qualifying period of employment to bring a complaint of ordinary unfair dismissal, because she had not been continuously employed for a period of not less than two years ending with the effective date of termination in accordance with section 108 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. The claimant’s complaint of ordinary unfair dismissal was therefore dismissed.

Automatically unfair dismissal

The Tribunal, however, held that the reason for the Claimant’s dismissal was her pregnancy, and therefore upheld her claim that she had been automatically unfairly dismissed by reason connected with her pregnancy contrary to section 99(3) (a) Employment Rights Act 1996 .

Pregnancy discrimination

The claimant’s complaint that her dismissal was unfavourable treatment and that she was discriminated on grounds of the protected characteristic of pregnancy contrary to section 18(2) of the Equality Act 2010 was well-founded and her claim succeeded – the Employment Tribunal held that the Respondent discriminated against the Claimant by dismissing her.

Failure to provide particulars of employment

The ET found that the Respondent had failed to provide a written statement of terms and conditions of employment when the Claimant commenced her employment which was contrary to section 1 of the Employment Rights Act 1996.

The case was listed by the Employment Tribunal for a Remedy Hearing to be heard at the Manchester Employment Tribunal on the first available date and with a hearing length of one day.

Our lawyers’ views on the case

Stephen Norton, a lawyer at Redmans, commented on the case: “This was a fairly blatant and transparent attempt by an employer to dismiss a pregnant employee, then attempting to argue dismissal was linked to redundancy which had been discussed with the employee. The Employment Tribunal was not convinced any such discussion took place and saw the true reason for dismissal being connected with her pregnancy and sex discrimination, and therefore discriminatory.”

The judgment of the Employment Tribunal in Ms T Donaldson v Helan Greenhalf trading as Roundhills Kennels Cattery ET2402454/2019 can be found here.