Hi, I’m Emily* and I was recently made redundant from my job in the run up to my maternity leave. I felt that the redundancy was unfair and chose to take legal action against my company for pregnancy and maternity discrimination. Here’s my story…
With just a few weeks left until I was due to go on maternity leave I was called into a meeting with my manager and the MD of the company. It was a bit unusual but I thought perhaps they were just going to wish my the best with everything! How wrong I was!! During the meeting they told me that there was going to be a restructure and my role was going to be made obsolete within the next month. I was completely shocked. I had worked for the company for many years, and been in that particular role for over a year, and had heard nothing about any plans to restructure.
Over the next couple of weeks I entered into a consultation process with my employer, however it felt like an after thought. Very little effort had been made to avoid a redundancy situation and just two weeks after that initial meeting I was given formal notice.
There was no doubt in my mind that my redundancy was unfair, I felt that I had been chosen because I was pregnant and about to have a year off (if you can call maternity leave “a year off!”) so during the final meeting I explained to the HR Manager that I would be seeking legal advice.
I spoke to several solicitors over the next few days, I explained the situation and each and every person that I spoke to told me that they believed I had a strong case. Up until now I had just been having very brief chats with solicitors over the telephone, but the time came when I needed to instruct one to take my case further. Luckily we had legal cover as part of our house insurance and so I began the process this way, meaning that luckily I wasn’t incurring costs.
My solicitor explained that to begin with you have to speak with ACAS. They would act as an intermediary and go between myself and my employer to try and reach an agreement (or settlement if necessary) in the hope of avoiding a tribunal. So this is what we did. My employer were adamant that the decision had been fair and that my pregnancy and mat leave played no part in it. I’ll be honest, there were moments when I doubted myself, they just seemed so sure that they had done nothing wrong that you can’t help but wonder and begin to question yourself. However, I stuck with it and continued to stand firm in my belief that I had been unfairly dismissed.
Once it became apparent that it would not be possible to reach an agreement through ACAS, my solicitor filed the paperwork for the tribunal. At the time we had to pay a fee of around £500 to submit the papers, with a further £700 being due a month before the hearing (I’m pleased to say that these fees have now been scrapped). Together with my solicitor we calculated the value of my claim, based on loss of earnings plus compensation – known as injury to feelings. The amount will depend on specific details of a case, my solicitor explained that they use Vento guidelines to decide how much should be awarded. There are three bands depending on how serious the tribunal considers the injury to feelings to be, my particular case fell somewhere in the middle band.
Before the case is heard at tribunal there is one more attempt to reach an agreement, a mediation hearing. The date was set for a few months time and communication stopped really for a few weeks as we prepared for the hearing (oh and I also managed to find time to have a baby during these few weeks!)
As the mediation hearing approached the time came again to sit down with my solicitor and run through everything one last time. I had been very careful in saving all the notes from every meeting and email sent during the time from that initial meeting with the MD and my final redundancy notice. It was quite time consuming collating all the information (particularly difficult to find the time when you’re looking after a newborn!!) but it turned out to all be very important, so I’m very glad I did.
The night before the meeting I received an email from my solicitor who has spoken with my employer, they were willing to offer me a settlement, somewhere in the region of about 1/4 of the amount that I was claiming for. In my mind, it was the first sign that they were admitting some wrong doing and it was just the boost I needed to feel confident going into the hearing the next day. Of course I rejected the offer, without even a countering (against the advice of my solicitor I must say).
The day of the mediation hearing came around. I sat in a room with my old manager, the MD and the head of HR and their legal team, just me and my solicitor. Lots of people asked me if I was nervous to see them again but the truth is I wasn’t. I felt that they should be nervous. What kind of a company make a new mum go through this. The judge explained that we would be taken to separate rooms and throughout the day she would listen to the details of the case and go back and forth between us to try and agree a settlement.
There was A LOT of back and forth. Needless to say it was a very long day with lots of waiting around. They eventually made an offer but again, not one that I would even consider accepting.
After sitting in a room with my solicitor for around 9 hours I finally told the judge that we weren’t getting anywhere and I think we should call it a day. The judge tried to explain to me that a tribunal would be very stressful and that I really should consider taking the offer, but at this stage I felt that I wanted to go to tribunal just to prove a point. Even my solicitor tried to talk me into taking it, he explained that really it was quite a fair offer for this kind of case, but it was still half of what we had calculated my claim to be worth.
However, I’ve always been quite stubborn and they had offended me by making me feel as though they just weren’t taking it very seriously. So I stood my ground and told both the judge and my solicitor that I absolutely would not accept it. I put my coat on and left the room.
Just as I was leaving the building the judge called after me and asked if I would listen to one last offer. I told her no, yet again… at which point she told me that they were willing to pay the full amount of my claim. I couldn’t believe it! I hadn’t even really expected to get the full amount at tribunal! And now I was getting it without having to even go through that process. It was amazing, but nonetheless – I think deserved!
It took another hour or so to sign the paperwork but finally it was over. Eight months from that first meeting to finally getting what I deserved. Part of the agreement was that I could not discuss the details of the case or settlement, which is why I have had to share this anonymously. But i felt it was important to do so as sadly I don’t think this kind of situation is as rare as people might believe.
So many people said to me after hearing of my redundancy, “surely they can’t do that to you when you’re pregnant.” Sadly, many employers think that they can. They rely on the fact that new mums aren’t going to have the time or energy to pursue it, and I can easily see how you could be tempted to just give up. There were certainly times when I felt I didn’t have the strength to do it, or even just that it doesn’t seem important once your baby arrives! I am so glad that I did though. We just can’t let these companies get away with this kind of behaviour. My employer was a big company, a household name. Not one that you would expect to do something like this. How many others out there have done it as well?
*names have been changed for anonymity.