NI: Female employee awarded £50k settlement in sex discrimination case
Maxine Orr, partner at Worthingtons Solicitors in Belfast, reflects on the lessons of a recent sex discrimination case that resulted in a £50k settlement.
The Claimant, Ruth Parks, was employed as a Finance Manager with Noonan Services Group and undertook a range of accounting duties in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Before going on maternity leave in 2013, Ms Parks’ duties were reallocated to other members of staff, however, the Claimant alleged that she was reassured that her job would be safe.
However, upon her return to work following maternity leave, she alleged that: she had been given a minimal list of duties; her name had been removed from the Finance Organisation chart and two new accountants had been employed; and the hours of a colleague who had taken over her duties whilst she had been on maternity leave had been increased.
The Claimant raised a grievance, which was not upheld and was further unsuccessful on appeal.
Ms Parks was then selected for redundancy. She also unsuccessfully appealed this decision and considered that an alternative position she was offered was unsuitable. The Respondent had also not offered her a post which she deemed suitable and which had became available whilst she was on maternity leave.
Ms Parks took an Industrial Tribunal case for sex discrimination with the assistance of the Equality Commission, which was recently settled for £50,000.
This case serves as a reminder to employers that women on maternity leave are afforded special protection in redundancy and discrimination law. Despite the fact that they may not be physically present in the workplace, this does not absolve employers of their legal responsibilities towards them and a failure to follow proper procedure can be costly!
Employers should remember the following; a woman on maternity leave has the right to return to the same job as she left; selecting a woman for redundancy because of her pregnancy, maternity leave or a related reason will be an automatically unfair dismissal; a failure to consult a woman on maternity leave about possible redundancy situations may be unlawful discrimination and a woman who is made redundant whilst on maternity leave must be offered any suitable vacancy if the employer has one – she does not need to apply for it.