Pregnant Worker Who Was Told Having a Baby Would Jeopardise Her Career Wins Pregnancy Discrimination Claim
In the case of Storm Botha v White Lake Cheeses Ltd, Ms Botha succeeded with her claims, which included pregnancy discrimination.
If you’ve experienced pregnancy discrimination, read our guide for more information.
The Facts in Storm Botha v White Lake Cheeses Ltd
Ms Storm Botha (“The Claimant”) began working for White Lake Cheeses Ltd (“The Respondent”) on 1 October 2020 as a temporary cheese-making assistant. She continued her employment after December 2020 in marketing.
Initially, she juggled marketing and cheese-making at £11 and £9 per hour, respectively. However, in March 2021, she focused solely on marketing.
The Claimant’s Pregnancy
On 7 September 2021, the claimant told Mrs Sandra Hamilton, the office manager, that she was pregnant and wanted this confidential. This was after a colleague previously suggested that having a baby would jeopardise her career.
However, Ms Hamilton told another colleague, saying, “Looking forward to seeing Roger’s face when I tell him next week!”. Despite this, Ms Hamilton denied informing Mr Roger Longman, the managing director of the cheese company.
Ms Botha’s Demotion
On 21 September, Mr Longman met with Ms Botha, complaining about her marketing work. He informed her that she was temporarily moving to production at a reduced rate of £9.50 per hour.
That evening, Ms Botha emailed Mr Longman as she felt underappreciated and wanted to confirm if it was temporary. Later that evening, she sent a formal grievance letter to the respondent, outlining her criticisms about the meeting. She stated she was the only employee who’d been moved to another department whilst receiving reduced pay, meaning the demotion was pregnancy discrimination.
On 22 September, Mr Longman responded, explaining she’d misunderstood the meeting and called for a second the following day. This led to contention because he felt her employment was a “flex” between production and marketing, whereas she believed she was now in marketing full-time.
Furthermore, she outlined issues with the initial meeting’s conduct. She also complained about no risk assessment being carried out when pregnant and at risk of contracting listeriosis. Following the meeting, she was given two weeks to decide whether to move roles on less money. Although she agreed to the move, she disagreed with the reduced salary.
On 5 October, Ms Botha took the morning off due to morning sickness. Mrs Hamilton informed her not to return to work for 48 hours due to vomiting. However, the claimant provided a link showing those rules didn’t apply to morning sickness. As such, she was allowed to return to work the following day.
Whilst off, Ms Botha asked if she could work from home using the respondent’s laptop to avoid losing pay. The respondent refused, explaining they wanted the laptop to remain in the office.
Then, on 7 October, the claimant provided the respondent with a fit note, signing her off from work till 20 October due to work-related stress. A series of sick leave periods for similar reasons followed.
A Series of Meetings
During this time, the respondent set several meetings with Ms Botha. On 13 October, they addressed her grievance, where she explained how the prospect of unemployment whilst expecting a baby had led to several panic attacks. Despite apologising for unintentionally causing distress, Mr Longman dismissed her grievance on 15 October, amounting the pay reduction to a lower-paying role, not her pregnancy.
Then, on 19 October, in a consultation meeting about the new role, Mr Longman outlined the company no longer required marketing and offered a production role at £9.50 per hour. Ms Botha requested a written proposal and that the cheese company complete a risk assessment before deciding.
Later that day, Mr Longman provided the proposal letter, explaining she had seven days to respond once she received the risk assessment. The following day, the claimant received the risk assessment, outlining that PPE would be provided to remove the risk of contracting listeriosis and colleagues could lift heavy objects for her.
On 26 October, after appealing the respondent’s grievance decision, Ms Botha attended a hearing addressing similar issues. However, on 27 October, Mr Longman made the same decision, reasserting his original grievance points.
Moreover, on 1 November, Ms Botha received an email explaining her marketing role had become redundant. Therefore, she was invited to a consultation meeting on 5 November to explore redundancy alternatives.
However, Ms Botha couldn’t attend the meeting, so it was rearranged for 19 November. Before the meeting, the respondent informed the claimant of a new sales assistant role at £10 per hour and asked her to confirm her interest by 18 November 2021.
Ms Botha’s Miscarriage
Unfortunately, on 19 November, Ms Botha suffered a miscarriage, leading to solicitors she’d contacted informing the respondent. They also protested the short deadline to confirm interest in the new role. Mrs Hamilton sympathised with the claimant and extended the deadline to 26 November.
Following her miscarriage, Ms Botha didn’t respond about the sales roles and was on further sick leave. So Mr Longman rearranged their meeting for 6 December, when she was due to return, to discuss redundancy alternatives. However, on 6 December, Ms Botha supplied another fit note, extending her leave until 17 December.
In response, Mr Longman moved the meeting to 13 December and said she had until 10 December to accept the affinage and wrapping role (since the deadline for the sales role had passed). If this deadline passed, he explained there would be no alternatives to redundancy, and a decision would be made without her.
The Claimant’s Dismissal
On 13 December, Ms Botha didn’t attend the meeting, subsequently receiving a letter from the respondent on 14 December. It outlined her employment’s termination and she was being made redundant from 19 December 2021. Following this, on 2 February 2022, Ms Botha brought claims, including pregnancy discrimination, against the respondent.
The Decision of the Employment Tribunal
The employment tribunal ruled that Ms Botha’s pregnancy discrimination claim succeeded. They stated that reducing her salary amounted to unfavourable treatment as it was motivated by her pregnancy.
They added that stopping her from working in the office due to morning sickness or from home with a laptop was unfavourable treatment. This was because she lost money from being unable to work when she could’ve, and this was linked to her pregnancy-related sickness. Furthermore, they said the mass correspondence to arrange consultation meetings was similar treatment.
Finally, they found her dismissal was also unfavourable treatment, as it was again motivated by her pregnancy. To conclude, the tribunal also found in her favour concerning claims of detriment, victimisation and unfair dismissal. Therefore, a remedy hearing to determine her compensation will occur.