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Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination {Emily’s Story}

Author: Guest Post

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.

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28 thoughts on “Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination {Emily’s Story}

  1. A very interesting read, and a massive well done for standing up to your previous employer. With so many people publicly fighting this fight (Pregnant then Screwed, Mother Pukka etc.) things are definitely improving but it won’t be until regular people without high profiles stand up and fight like you have done Emily, before every single company large or small takes notice of pregnancy and maternity discrimination!

    1. Thank you Maddy! I can totally see why people don’t bother or give up along the way as they definitely don’t make it easy! But in my experience it’s worth sticking at it!

  2. Wow. Just wow. I am sorry you had to go through this and have it hanging over you through what should have been a blissful bubble with your baby. However I am so glad you won against them in the end and loved that you stood your ground – the bit where you put your coat on and left! What are you going to do next? Have you found another job?

    I was the golden child at work and within a year of a new post being created that was perfect (and aimed) for me, I was called in out of the blue very casually ‘have you got a minute’ style by my manager. HR was there and I was told my team was being restructured, my post cut and I was at risk of redundancy. It was horrendous, I was mid buying a house off plan on my own and felt very vulnerable. In the end I got another post in the team but that all hinged on a colleague getting promoted out of it. This was all 14 months ago now and I’ll never feel secure again.

    1. Ah thank you Bunny, it was a bit of a distraction I have to say! I’m taking a little career break for now, the money has helped make that possible so really I feel very lucky!

      I’m so sorry you had to go through something similar, too many companies are doing this to people and getting away with it! Good luck with everything, hope you find some security – whether it be at that firm or another!

  3. I was made redundant when my baby was 4 weeks old. I also had a 1 year old at the time. I was exhausted and stressed and just did not have the time to pursue the case properly, even though I received legal advice that I would have a claim. I took the one months salary redundancy pay plus a settlement fee of less than a month’s salary (I had been at the company for 3 years) and I do regret it now, but at the time there was just no way I would have had the headspace for the scenario you describe. My employer was an international investment bank – it makes me so angry when I think about it, and sad that so many of us feel our ‘hands are tied’ when it comes to this. You should feel very proud of yourself!

    1. I’m so sorry to hear this Charlotte, I can so easily imagine you would just not have the energy for it with a newborn. I think had this all happened after my baby had been born I too would possibly not have pursued it. Companies rely on this and definitely take advantage. I hope you found something that makes you happier and they treat you far better than the bank!!

  4. Hi Emily, I am really sorry to be rude, but may I ask in what price region your settlement was?

    A friend of mine is now very close to her due date, she has had a very difficult pregnancy in terms of feeling very sick and unable to eat the whole way through, whilst also suffering from heightened anxiety. Her employers are a family (female) run business and they have basically maneuvered her out of her management position, trying to either convince her to resign or demoting her to a waitress. She has spoken with a solicitor and ACAS already and has had a number of meetings with her employer where she has suggested that if they choose to give her a settlement, she would like £5k.

    I personally feel that she is selling herself short, as she has lost half a year of earnings as well as her maternity pay. What do you think?

    Thanks!

    1. In my view that’s far too little (not an expert but been through redundancy twice), but it does depend on salary, how long she’s been there etc… I don’t know how maternity leave/pay is affected by redundancy so she should get advice on that.

    2. Not rude at all, it is so hard to know the value of a claim! Obviously every case is different and it does depend largely on your salary but £5k seems much too low to me. Your friend should take a look at the Vento guidelines which gives guidance on the value of the claim, this is usually then awarded in addition to loss of earnings. It sounds to me like she has a very strong case so if she can face legal action my advice would be to go for it. Happy to answer any questions she has, I’m sure RMS can put us in touch 🙂 xx

      1. I agree it sounds too low. I’ve several friends who work for large scale businesses who have been through this and I’d say average pay out is 12-18 months salary. Money in lieu of a notice period are taxable but the settlement sum isn’t.

  5. I think you’re amazing for going through all of that, especially with a newborn. Thank you for sharing your story as it’s so important to hear. I was made redundant while on maternity leave and considered legal action, I had to weigh everything up and on balance decided not to persue it. It was the right decision for me but I do think employers need to think more clearly when going through this process. It was obvious my maternity leave affected my position but in the way it panned out it wouldn’t have changed the final outcome. I’m now trying to find a way of balancing work with being a mum and it’s tough.

    1. It’s definitely not for everyone, and safe to say I have burnt my bridges with that company and others connected to it – so it’s a big decision! Balancing work life and mum life is definitely difficult, hope you find your perfect balance 🙂

  6. I think you’re incredible for what you’ve done and achieved, well done for sticking with it too, it must have been incredibly stressful. I’ve been back at work from a years maternity leave and am now working part time. I hate it. My boss is piling the work on and asked me last week ‘what I do all day’ I used to love my job but I feel like I’m no longer valued and that the grand plan is to make me so fed up I will leave of my own accord and they can replace me with a full timer. It shouldn’t be so hard should it? So pleased you had a good ending though.

    1. Oh Annabelle I’m so sorry, that sounds awful. There just isn’t enough support or understanding for Mum’s returning to work. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you are being bullied out of your job. I hope it all works out for you in the end

  7. Thank you for sharing your story. I really admire your strength and pushing through such a stressful situation whilst also having a baby! Amazing!

  8. I was high fiving the air, Emily! Bloody well done for going through all that with a newborn – unbelievable that you should have to. I’m so glad that you stuck it out because the large corporates (and their legal adviser) really do rely on you caving under the pressure (I used to work at one such legal adviser!).

    This is so personal and has so much more of an effect on you than it does on a large, corporate machine.

    On a related note – I am so glad the tribunal fees were scrapped – this is a lifeline for a lot of people and needs to be as accessible to people as possible.

    1. haha ah thank you Kate! I am sure so many companies get away with this kind of thing – it’s awful! I also couldn’t agree more about the fees, such brilliant news and hopefully makes it that little bit easier for people to take it further should they wish

  9. Well done Emily, good for you. I am an employment lawyer and I absolutely despair at how companies are able to get around the legislation and blatantly target pregnant women and new mothers. Even at the international law firm where I work the behaviour can be appalling and there have been several times when I have seriously considered bringing a claim because of how I have been treated during and after maternity leave; however, I’ve never been able to face it (knowing too well how hard the process can be and how companies can justify themselves). Wish I had had your courage!

  10. Thank you so much for sharing. I’m in a different situation but lots of similarities and I do often wonder if it’s worth my energies but this has really given me a push to keep fighting for my rights. Thank you! Xx

  11. Well done you!!!

    What kind of evidence did you have? I know employers are very careful not to mention pregnancy and things like that, so how do you gather a case?

    Is it down to your performance, clean slate, no real plans for restructure before your redundancy?

    Would be helpful so women know what to look for.

    1. Hi Michelle,

      Sorry for my late reply. In my case it was the fact that there was no selection pool, there were other people doing similar jobs to me so we should all have been pooled together. That was the main thing that won it I believe. I also had an outstanding performance record (which I used as evidence) and so I felt that if there had have been a selection pool I would have at least had a good chance of being kept on – had I not been pregnant of course.

      My employer did make a few mistakes with things that they said in meetings and in emails so these also helped, but obviously I can’t go into specific details unfortunately. My advice would be just to keep everything – take lots of notes, keep all your emails and keep track of dates too. You never know what might be important. Sorry if that’s not too helpful!

  12. They messed with the wrong woman! I’m so sorry this had to happen to you but power to you for taking them on. It makes me so angry though, a lot of women wouldn’t have the strength to go through that with a newborn, and that’s what they count on. It would be so eye opening if we could all know the names of the companies that do this too, I bet a lot of people would be shocked. I reckon it should be law that companies have to publish the number of maternity discrimination cases they’ve had each year, that would sort people out pretty quickly!

  13. Sounds very similar to a friend. A major supermarket didn’t want a female manager having babies. She took the payout and signed an NDA. Funny when every little helps….

    In reality I got demoted in all but name returning to work on part time hours. I left and got a better paid job with slightly more hours and I’ve never been busier!

  14. Sorry for my delayed reply to this post. Well done for seeing this through Emily, what a fantastic read and an inspiration for all women going through the same experience.

    I worked for a small family run business. I announced my pregnancy and they were very excited and lovely about it. Then a month before I was due on maternity leave, they advertised my job as a full time permanent post, not maternity cover.

    When I questioned it, I was told that they didn’t want to put people off by it being a fixed term maternity cover only and that they would in fact need two people so when I came back there would be enough work for me and the new person.

    The first thing that happened was I was invited on a team training day during maternity leave. I thought this would be a great opportunity have a Keeping In Touch day. I emailed my boss to confirm my attendance and he said that there was actually no funding for me to do the training and that my presence was not required.

    I was on maternity leave for 9 months and then requested coming back 3 days a week. This was refused and so I said that I would like to come back full time. They were obviously not expecting me to come back at all and now had to employ two full time people doing my job.

    When I went back to work, my great working relationship with my managers had changed. It was like I was a total inconvenience and they didn’t want me there. They made my life hell. I was pulled into a performance review meeting on my first week back, flagging up things I hadn’t done properly prior to maternity leave (despite achieving ‘Outstanding’ in my work appraisal). They were obviously trying to push me out the business. I was then asked to attend another meeting to discuss my working hours and that actually they could accommodate 3 days after all. I said that due to them only accepting full time, my personal circumstances was now revolving around that decision and we were in the middle of a house move which depended on my salary being full time. We compromised at 4 days.
    2 months later they made me redundant.

    I had no HR support as they were a small company and they hired an external HR company who work on behalf of the employer, so I went to Citizen’s Advice and got told I had a strong case but I did not pursue matters further as I was worried about the financial implications and at the time we were in the middle of a house move. In hindsight I wish I had seen it through.

  15. So many women have been through this experience. I was manoeuvred out of work when my son was 2. I returned to work.part time when he was 1 on a trial basis, this lasted for about 11 months before I was pulled into a meeting and told full time or nothing. Various other things had happened in the meantime such as my maternity cover being promoted to manager (a position I was never even offered), my own manager having flexible working granted. And my dad being diagnosed with cancer which meant that my mum couldn’t help me with childcare as much – he went to nursery instead and the impact on my work was that I used 2 days of holiday booked in advance when there was no space! It was very clear that they didn’t want someone who was going to be leaving at 5pm to.pick up a child and I am convinced that is why I got this ultimatum.
    I’m a SAHM now and out would take a lot to tempt me back to work!

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