Julie Humphryes claimed that sexist remarks and bullying in the workplace forced her out of her job at YOO Limited. She alleged that she was marginalised after taking maternity leave in July 2012. Ms Humphryes said that she was also subjected to sexist remarks prior to her maternity leave, such as being asked in a meeting whether she really wanted to be a “supermum”.
Central London Employment Tribunal ordered YOO Limited to pay £250,000 in damages to Ms Humphryes after ruling that she was unfairly constructively dismissed and subjected to detrimental treatment because of pregnancy or maternity.
Ms Humphryes, a leading architect and designer, helped to design a luxury residential development which featured in Homes and Gardens Magazine whilst she was on maternity leave but her male colleague received all the credit. After she complained about this lack of recognition of her work, the company’s CEO, Chris Boulton, commented that she was exhibiting “maternity paranoia”. Ms Humphryes resigned after this claiming that it was the “last straw”.
In explaining his comment to the tribunal, Mr Boulton said that she was, “exhibiting insecurity because she was away from the office and not in touch with what was going on”. Ms Humphryes claimed that she had also been subjected to unlawful discrimination by John Hitchcox, who was a joint founder of the company together with renowned designer, Philippe Starck, after he used the phrase, “supermum”. Mr Hitchcox had also commented on the extensive travelling involved in the job and the fact that Ms Humphryes had taken her first child with her on foreign business trips.
The tribunal found that although Mr Hitchcox had the best of motives the remark was reasonably viewed as a detriment and amounted to unfavourable treatment because of pregnancy or maternity. This amounted to detrimental treatment under the Equality Act. The tribunal said that they accepted from Mr Boulton that his general point was that being out of the office might be making her over suspicious about what may be going on at work without her knowledge. “Nevertheless the specific phrase, “maternity paranoia” has the pejorative tone expressly linked to maternity being the reason for absence” The tribunal therefore found this was unfavourable treatment. The tribunal also found that Ms Humphryes had a legitimate expectation that she should not have been left out of the Homes and Gardens article simply because she was on maternity leave. Mr Boulton had also told Ms Humphryes to “calm down” which the tribunal ruled “had the whiff of the patronising” about it and that his demeanour towards her was “laced with an element of sexism”.
Ms Humphryes was awarded £20,000 for injury to feelings, £72,500 for loss of earnings for not being employed and £176,500 for other losses before deductions. The tribunal also ruled that Ms Humphryes had contributed to her own dismissal and reduced her award by 10% to reflect this.
The decision highlights the type of remarks that a tribunal will consider amount to detrimental treatment for the purposes of sex, maternity and pregnancy related discrimination and also that overlooking someone on maternity leave simply because they are off is likely to be discriminatory.