Hello everyone and thank you for joining us for our case of the week. Last week we had our monthly newsletter for May, for anyone that missed it, you can find it here. This week, we are looking at a successful pregnancy discrimination claim against a Somerset based cheesemaker.

This week’s Employment Tribunal case is Storm Botha v White Lake Cheeses Ltd. The Respondent makes cheeses and the Claimant worked in administration and marketing.

Upon revealing her pregnancy to the Respondent in 2021, the Claimant was later invited to a meeting in September 2021 with her line manager and managing director, Roger Longman, whereby he criticised her work and demoted her from her marketing position, earning £11 an hour, to a lower-paying role in wrapping and affinage at £9.50 an hour.

Despite the Respondent’s denial of knowledge about her pregnancy during the demotion meeting, notes revealed the Claimant said to her manager “I’m pregnant, I can’t work in the cheese room” to which her manager’s reaction was: “I know, that’s why you will be working in wrapping. Oh, and congratulations.” The Claimant also reported being told by her line manager, that having a baby would “jeopardise” her career.

The Claimant stated she made protected disclosures to her line manager about the potential of a Listeria Mono contamination occurring within the factory. A Listeria infection is a foodborne bacterial illness that can be fatal and result in catastrophic implications for pregnant women, people over 65, and those with weakened immune systems.

The Claimant went off sick on 5 October 2021 due to experiencing morning sickness and sadly suffered a miscarriage on 19 November. On 13 December she was dismissed by reason of redundancy.

The Claimant brought claims in the Employment Tribunal for pregnancy and sex discrimination, whistleblowing and automatic unfair dismissal. The Claimant did not have two years’ continuous service with the Respondent so had the burden of proving that the reason or, if more than one, the principal reason for her dismissal was either relating to her pregnancy or the protected disclosures.

The Employment Tribunal

The Tribunal found that the Claimant was given 14 days to accept the demotion and pay cut or leave the company. Between 22 September and 22 October 2021, she worked in harsh conditions, lifting heavy cheeses in a refrigerated room which led to panic attacks.

Following the miscarriage and despite a doctor’s note declaring her unfit for work, she was called into redundancy consultations and was later dismissed. The ET deemed the guise of redundancy a “sham.”

The Tribunal found in the Claimant’s favour, awarding her £19,694.42 for financial losses and injury to feelings, concluding that she had suffered pregnancy discrimination.

Takeaway Points

This case is a reminder of the importance of upholding rights and protections against pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. Pregnancy discrimination is prohibited under section 18 of the Equality Act 2010, which is further supported by the Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999 (MAPLE). The test is unfavourable treatment which includes dismissal or any detriment during the protected period due to pregnancy or pregnancy-related illness.

Reg 20(1) of MAPLE states that an employee who is dismissed for reasons connected with pregnancy, including taking or seeking to take time off for antenatal care or miscarriage, is regarded as unfairly dismissed.

If you or someone you know are dealing with a similar issue, please contact us for further assistance.