Tribunal finds that pregnant woman was discriminated against after unfair criticism made of her work (Miss N Grant v Hunter Price International Ltd and Others: ET/2410479/2018)
In the case of Miss N Grant v Hunter Price International Ltd and Others: 2410479/2018 the Employment Tribunal held that the Claimant had been constructively dismissed, discriminated against and victimised after being subjected to intense pressure by employer.
The facts in Grant v Hunter Price International Ltd and Others
Miss Grant (the “Claimant”) commenced employment with Hunter Price International Ltd on 2 January 2014 as a Business Development Manager. The correct Respondents for the purpose of the Hearing were confirmed as Price Hunter International Ltd and the Managing Director, Mr Joshua Eden (the “Respondents). The Claimant was not provided with a contract of employment, job description or a statement of main terms of conditions by. The Respondent is the sister company of Hunter Price International Ltd that is engaged in the design, manufacture and supply of innovative products to retailers and distributors in the UK and abroad. It also traded in clearance stock but in or around 2012 a decision was made to move the clearance business to a separate company Price Hunter International Limited, the Respondent Company.
The Claimant worked as part of a small team of four staff. Her role involved making contact with companies across the UK and abroad with a view to purchasing stock and also visiting exhibitions, trade shows and shops to identify stock buying opportunities. The role also had an element of sales attached to it and the claimant would offer the clearance stock to a small and relatively fixed customer base. In her letter of appointment it stated “The role will include contacting companies for potential purchasing of clearance stock, visiting various exhibitions for stock buying and keeping a database of all potential suppliers”. The Claimant’s starting salary was £25,000 with commission of 0.5% on purchases. This increased to a salary of £30,000 plus commission of 1% on sales and 0.75% on purchases. The Claimant’s role was largely independent, and the Claimant was trusted to get on with her job and set her own tasks and work to her own schedule.
The Respondents were aware the Claimant had her own method of storing contacts such as excel spreadsheets, emails and business cards rather than using the company software package known as “ACT”. The Claimant’s system worked well on a large project (the Aldi contract) she worked on, and the Respondent did not raise any concerns over her working methods, and indeed the Claimant applied for, and was awarded, a pay rise in recognition of her work of £5,000 plus commission.
The Claimant became under increased pressure in November-December 2017 to produce a master spreadsheet for contacts and the Respondents raised additional concerns about her timekeeping and team working, but no criticism was made about her actual work performance or methods. There was no indication at this time that any disciplinary action was being considered by the Respondents. The Claimant informed the Respondents of her pregnancy on 14 December 2017. Pressure increased on the Claimant to produce the list of supplier contents in a master database via a management instruction on 20 December 2017. She was given a 5pm deadline the next day to comply or disciplinary action would be instigated.
The Respondents carried out an investigation meeting in January 2018 to discuss the issue of the Claimant’s failure to produce a master spreadsheet, which they failed to send her an invite and conducted the meeting without her. Around this time the Claimant’s union representative raised the issue of a risk assessment for the Claimant as part of her job role involved lifting heavy objects and sometimes travelling long distances to attend exhibitions. The risk assessment was not carried out. The disciplinary meeting was held on 19 January 2018 following a letter sent to the Claimant setting out allegations for gross misconduct including, continued refusal to comply with a legitimate and reasonable management instruction, loss of company information and property and breach of the implied term of trust and confidence. At the disciplinary hearing the Claimant was confronted again with the whereabouts of the master spreadsheet which she again denied one existed but was happy to produce one if that was required. The Respondents sought to reconvene at a further disciplinary meeting but the Claimant was concerned about the adverse impact this was having on her health generally and the impact the stress and anxiety was having on her unborn child. She submitted her resignation by email on 1 March 2018. The Claimant commenced early conciliation on 9 March 2018.
The Claimant lodged an Employment Tribunal claim raising a number of matters which included amongst other things unfair constructive dismissal, pregnancy discrimination, detriment suffered because of her pregnancy and victimisation based on the Respondent’s failure to pay outstanding commission.
The decision of the Employment Tribunal
The ET held in favour of the Claimant. They found her claims for constructive unfair dismissal were proven in the way the Respondent had handled the investigatory and disciplinary process, and that the conduct of the Respondent as a whole amounted to a breach of the implied duty of trust and confidence – the Respondent had embarked on a course of behaviour that was likely to destroy the employment relationship leaving the Claimant little choice but to resign.
The ET found based on the facts, the Respondents had treated the Claimant less favourably because of her pregnancy – the proximity of the management instruction to the announcement of her pregnancy and the unrealistic timeframe that she was given to comply amounted to pregnancy discrimination.
Pregnancy and maternity discrimination
It is unlawful to discriminate against a person because they are pregnant or have taken (or are taking, or intend to take) a period of maternity leave (section 18 Equality Act 2020).
Finally, the claim for victimisation was also upheld by the Employment Tribunal – the actions of the Respondent in withholding her commission was found to amount to victimisation (see here for a guide to the law on victimisation).
Our solicitors’ views on the case of Grant v Hunter Price International Ltd and Others
As the Tribunal pointed out the employer in this case embarked on a course of behaviour that involved failure to follow due process and fairness in its treatment of an employee, which was accelerated after being notified by her of her pregnancy. The actions of the Respondents in withholding the commission that should have been paid along with her salary, was linked by the ET to the Claimant contacting ACAS rather than any contractual term, so were a clear detriment amounting to victimisation.
The liability judgment in the case of Miss N Grant v Hunter Price International Ltd and Others: 2410479/2018 can be found here.