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.
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.
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: