NI: Woman dismissed after becoming pregnant settles with employer for undisclosed sum

NI: Woman dismissed after becoming pregnant settles with employer for undisclosed sum

Suzanne Keenan

A woman who was unfairly dismissed and discriminated against on the grounds of her sex has settled with her former employer for an undisclosed sum.

Suzanne Keenan, associate director and head of employment at MKB Law, acted for client Winnie Van Der Merwe in her claim against UHY Hacker Young Fitch Ltd.

The claimant, who was employed as an accounts assistant, was summoned to a disciplinary meeting shortly after becoming pregnant to face allegations around timekeeping.

She was issued with a warning, but felt that the disciplinary issues were taken against her because of her pregnancy.

Her employer subsequently issued a memo informing staff that breaks for lunch, toilet or personal calls that exceeded their daily 30-minute break were to be made up outside of working hours, causing her to worry that she would be disciplined for taking extra toilet breaks due to her pregnancy.

Some months later, while Ms Van Der Merwe was on sick leave, her employer claimed to have investigated aspects of her work and made various further allegations.

When the claimant returned to work, she was refused admission to the office and advised that she had been suspended without explanation. A disciplinary hearing then took place in which the claimant was dismissed from the company for alleged gross misconduct.

The Industrial Tribunal heard evidence that UHY Hacker Young Fitch Ltd had sought advice on how to end Ms Van Der Merwe’s employment prior to the disciplinary hearing.

The tribunal concluded that the employer had intended to dismiss her from the outset, and that the “so-called investigations and meetings were sham”.

It concluded that the only reason for the dismissal was the claimant’s pregnancy, and that her employer had discriminated against her on the grounds of her sex.

A separate meeting was set up by the tribunal to address remedy for the claimant, but the proceedings were subsequently settled for an undisclosed sum.

Commenting on the case, Ms Keenan said: “I was extremely proud to have represented Winnie in this recent pregnancy discrimination case.

“It is a case that I was very passionate about from the start and I am absolutely delighted with the outcome for Winnie. This case will resonate with a lot of women who have suffered from any form of discrimination as a result of pregnancy in the workplace.”

Ms Van Der Merwe added: “Throughout the case, Suzanne Keenan was my guiding light, my shoulder to cry on and my biggest soldier. I cannot thank her and the team enough for not only fighting my case, but also winning it. The way she believed in this case and the professional manner in which she handled the tribunal hearing is the reason why we got what we received and what we deserved.

“This whole process was about justice for me, justice for my baby, and justice for women who are discriminated against in the workplace. I will for the rest of my life remember this experience, and I will forever wear the emotional scars that came with it but now I have a great and fair ending to a very dark time in my life, all thanks to Suzanne and MKB Law.”

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