Thomas v Whitbread Group plc – employee discriminated against after failure to make adjustments for her post-natal depression

In the case of Thomas v Whitbread Group plc ET/3202395/13 the Employment Tribunal held that Mrs Thomas had been discriminated against by her employer Costa Coffee (which is owned by Whitbread Group plc) when the company failed to make reasonable adjustments for her post-natal depression.

Factual background of Thomas v Whitbread Group plc

Mrs Thomas worked as a store manager for Costa Coffee, a coffee shop owned by Whitbread Group plc. Mrs Thomas suffered from the disability of post-natal depression, which she had disclosed in her job application when applying for the position of store manager, and an occupational health therapist recommended when started at the company that she maintain regular contact with her supervisor (Ms Hudson) so that her condition could be monitored.

A number of inspections of Ms Thomas’ store were undertaken after she started employment, and the store’s performance was rated as unsatisfactory. Ms Hudson therefore informed Ms Thomas that she would be ¬†subjected to disciplinary action. Ms Thomas subsequently raised a complaint against Ms Hudson, alleging that she had been bullied, harassed, and subjected to disability discrimination. Ms Hudson immediately suspended Mrs Thomas and undertook the disciplinary proceedings, which resulted in a final written warning for Mrs Thomas. Mrs Thomas’ grievance was not upheld.

After the conclusion of the disciplinary and grievance procedures Mrs Thornley took over supervising Mrs Thomas and continued to intensely monitor her, including often calling her on the telephone (which Mrs Thomas found stressful, due to her post-natal depression). Mrs Thomas then requested parental leave for a week from 2 April 2013, which Mrs Thornley rejected on the basis that there was no fully-trained assistance manager who could have run the Costa store in Mrs Thomas’ absence. Mrs Thomas continued to apply for parental leave but her applications were continually turned down; however, Mrs Thornley subsequently informed Mrs Thomas that she could take annual leave for a week from 2 April 2013 as a gesture of “goodwill”.

Mrs Thomas resigned from her employment and claimed constructive dismissal and disability discrimination.

The Employment Tribunal’s decision

The Employment Tribunal found that Mrs Thomas had been constructively dismissed because of the unfair decision to suspend her from her employment after she submitted her complaint and, further, because of the refusal to allow her to take parental leave. The Tribunal also found that Costa had failed to make reasonable adjustments for Mrs Thomas’ post-natal depression as there was a failure to regularly monitor her condition and her managers continued to contact her by telephone despite knowing this would cause her additional anxiety.

The Tribunal awarded Mrs Thomas substantial compensation, including £15,000 as compensation for injury to feelings.

Our lawyers’ comment on the case

Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor at Redmans Solicitors, commented on the case: “This case shows that employers must be careful when dealing with suspensions, and particularly so if an employee has previously made a complaint of discrimination. Failing to deal with disciplinary action in a fair and impartial way could lead to an Employment Tribunal claim against the business.”