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Performance, Budget or Redundant Post: Pregnancy Discrimination Dismissal in Dowokpor v. London Borough of Waltham Forest (4 February 2019)

Date: 04/02/2019
Duncan Lewis, Employment Solicitors, Performance, Budget or Redundant Post: Pregnancy Discrimination Dismissal in Dowokpor v. London Borough of Waltham Forest

This case concerns an agency worker who was dismissed from her job shortly after disclosing that she was pregnant. She subsequently sought assistance from Duncan Lewis in order to bring a claim for pregnancy discrimination against London Borough of Waltham Forest on her behalf. The case was brought before the Employment Tribunal on 7-9 and 13 November 2018 and the resulting judgment, sent to parties on 24 January 2019, found that the Claimant had suffered pregnancy discrimination by having her engagement terminated by the Council and she was awarded £22,344.25 in damages.

Case History


Miss Dowokpor, the Claimant, was engaged as an agency worker by the London Borough of Waltham Forest as a sponsorship officer. The post was advertised on a recruitment portal for a term of 12 months. She was given an initial term of three months from March 2017 but it was extended 4 times until her engagement was terminated on 30 November 2017 due to her pregnancy.

The previous sponsorship officer had been employed from October 2016 for six months and did not raise any sponsorship money during that time. His engagement was not terminated for that reason as he left voluntarily to take up another role. Shortly after starting with the Council, Miss Dowokpor was told “don’t worry too much about targets from now - we have never made any money [from sponsorship income] so anything is a bonus”. As the summer programme for the Council’s events ran from March to September, there was little expectation from management that she would raise sponsorship in 2017. Nevertheless, she had a target of £180,000 in her first year until 30 March 2018 and had raised nearly £80,000 by the time she was told that her engagement was terminating.

In April 2017, Miss Dowokpor was offered another role on a two-year fixed term contract. She informed her manager, Mr Andrews (head of commercial operations and sponsorship), that she wanted to stay and sought job security for at least 12 months. Having consulted with Ms Lee (head of culture and heritage services), she was informed by Mr Andrews that the Council had the budget to retain her role to the 31 March 2018 subject to performance reviews. During the period of her engagement her performance was never criticised.

In October 2017 she notified Ms Lee that she was pregnant. Ms Lee’s response was to congratulate her, give her further projects and advise her that she could work from home if required. However, prior to this knowledge in September 2017, Ms Lee had sought advice about whether there was budget for the role and the cost of retaining Miss Dowokpor until the end of March 2018. In addition, in late October 2017, Mr Andrews approached HR for advice relating to the termination of the role as the role had changed.

On 1 November 2017 Mr Andrews invited Miss Dowokpor to a “catch up” meeting with him and Ms Lee on 3 November 2017. Miss Dowokpor sought assurances that her job was safe having heard rumours that the management were unhappy about her being pregnant. Mr Andrews dismissed the rumours as “rubbish”. She was asked to attend the meeting with her sponsorship information for what she thought was a routine meeting. However, when she met with Mr Andrews, she was informed that due to “budget cuts” the role would be frozen and her contract terminated. He praised her performance and asked her to stay until the end of November to tie up outstanding work, even though the Council could have ended her engagement on one week’s notice.

On 14 November 2017, Miss Dowokpor had a further meeting with Mr Andrews. By this time, Mr Andrews had sent a letter to the DWP suggesting that it was her performance that was the reason for the termination of the engagement. In the meeting, the Claimant was told that the Council had decided to get rid of the post.

Judgment

The tribunal found that the Claimant had suffered pregnancy discrimination by having her engagement terminated by the Council. Significantly, although there was no direct evidence of discrimination, the tribunal drew the following inferences from the facts:

  1. There was no documentary evidence as to the date that the decision to terminate was made and a contemporaneous note of the reasons for the termination. This was particularly surprising since the Council is required to act reasonably and may be required to give reasons for its decisions;

  2. Both Ms Lee’s and Mr Andrews’ accounts were inconsistent as to when the decision to terminate was made;

  3. Ms Lee and Mr Andrews both denied knowing of the pregnancy when the decision to dismiss was made;

  4. In May 2017 the Claimant was assured that she would remain in the post until 31 March 2018 and that there was funding for the role to that date;

  5. The only proviso of the role continuing was that it was subject to performance reviews. However, her performance had never been criticised and she had raised sponsorship income, unlike her predecessor;

  6. The shifting reasons for the decision to terminate; and

  7. The Claimant had not been warned that her role was at risk due to budgetary pressures and her contract had been extended in September 2017.

  8. The Claimant was awarded more than £22,000. This included loss of agency fees (£11,900) from the date of termination to the end of March 2018. She was also awarded compensation of £12,500 for injury to her feelings. This was deemed appropriate as the tribunal found that the Council’s failure to warn her about of the termination of her role, its degree of concealment and the inconsistency of the reason for the termination added to her anxiety during what was already a stressful time as the Claimant had a history of miscarriage.

    Representation

    Employment Law Director Anthony Thompson and Trainee Solicitor Joshua Platt acted for the Claimant.

    Counsel Sally Robertson, of Cloisters, represented the Claimant at the full hearing.


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