Female Employee Wins Sex Discrimination And Equal Pay Claim (Ms S Mueller v Utopia Leisure Ltd and others – 3306594/2021)

In the case of Ms. S Mueller v Utopia Leisure Ltd and others, a female employee, who worked as a general manager, made a claim against her employer(s) because she suffered a larger pay cut when compared to male colleagues. She was successful in both her claims for sex discrimination and equal pay.

The Facts in Ms. S Mueller v Utopia Leisure Ltd

Background – Employment with Utopia Leisure Ltd

Ms Mueller (“The Claimant”) commenced employment with Utopia Leisure Ltd (“The First Respondent”) on 15 April 2019, as General Manager of the Great Fosters Hotel. Mr Hinchcliffe (“The Second Respondent”) and Mrs Hinchcliffe (“The Third Respondent”) own Utopia Leisure Ltd, with Mr Heath (The Fourth Respondent”) being the Operations Director for Alexander Hotels.

The Claimant argued that during the course of her employment, she was:

In March 2020, the hospitality industry suffered due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.  The Second and Third Respondents discussed how to retain staff to avoid job losses, and ultimately agreed to impose pay cuts on various staff.

It was agreed to impose different percentage levels depending on earnings as a fair method. This was also discussed with the Fourth Respondent who was involved in this decision. The cuts agreed to be imposed were:

  • 20% pay cut for those earning under £30,000;
  • 25% pay cut for those earning £84,999;
  • 33% pay cut for those earning £85,000 and above.

Claimant Suffers From Significant Pay Cut

The Claimant was on an annual salary of £90,000 and had her earnings cut by 33%.  Two other general managers in similar roles, Mr Perry and Mr Jurca, were on annual earnings of around £90,000 but had their earnings cut by only 25% rather than 33%.

The reasons given by the Fourth Respondent were that the roles carried out by the male general managers comprised two separate roles. The hotels they managed also have spas attached to them, which has its own account.

Mr Perry’s total salary of £91,000 was broken down into £68,250 for his general manager role and £22,750 for the spa manager role. Mr Jurca’s total salary of 90,000 was argued as £67,500 for the general manager role and £22,500 for his spa manager role. Hence, the pay cut was said to correspond to the earnings within each business.

The Claimant was sent an email on 23 March 2020 from the Respondent regarding the pay cut. There was no meaningful consultation beforehand. Despite this, the Claimant accepted the pay cut without pushing back as she needed the job. Eventually, she found another job and resigned on 9 December 2020. Her last day of employment was 8 January 2021.

The Claimant presented a claim to the Bury St Edmunds Employment Tribunal on 9 May 2021, bringing claims for sex discrimination and equal pay along with holiday pay and arrears of pay.

The Decision of the Employment Tribunal

The Employment Tribunal found in favour of the Claimant for her claim for direct discrimination against all the Respondents. Additionally, the Tribunal found in favour of the Claimant in her claim against Utopia Leisure Ltd. for equal fare.

The Employment Tribunal also found her claims to be partially successful in relation to breach of contract/authorised deduction from wages against the First Respondent. Other claims against the First Respondent in respect of a 33% pay cut were not successful.

In reaching their decision the tribunal judge reached the conclusion that the work carried out by the Claimant was equivalent or broadly similar to that of the other general managers in terms of equal pay.

Her role involved managing a listed Manor House with extensive gardens, the estate, a Michelin-starred restaurant, the Tythe Barn, a large events space, and a large wedding and banqueting space, renovation work and managing a team of 90 members.

This was considered broadly similar or equivalent to the work carried out by the other general managers in their roles in managing the spas. The tribunal agreed that the Claimant had been treated less favourably because of her sex by having to endure a 33% cut in her wages.

The Respondent’s argument that the roles carried out by the male general managers were not suitable comparators when two job roles were separated was rejected. The treatment amounted to direct discrimination because of her sex.

Our Lawyers View

Stephen Norton, lawyer at Redmans, says: This was a crude attempt by the employer to cut the pay of a senior female manager by a larger percentage proportion using an artificial construct to separate out job roles of male comparators to that of hers.

Redmans Solicitors are specialists in employment law-related cases where employees are in need of legal aid. Should you have an eligible case, we could help you through the legal process. Simply: