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Case Study: Failure to Promote an Employee on Maternity Leave

Martin Searle Solicitors Employment Law Advice For Employees On Pregnancy Maternity Discrimination


How Martin Searle Solicitors helped a woman challenge her company’s failure to promote her due to maternity discrimination.

The situation

Olivia was employed by the National Ice Hockey Association as a Tournament Coordinator, based in Crawley.

In February while Olivia was on maternity leave, the Regional Tournament Director, Dave, decided to restructure the team. This involved creating a new post of Tournament Manager. The Tournament Manager would manage the Tournament Coordinator thereby enabling Dave to devote his time to other responsibilities.

Dave promoted Jeremy, Olivia’s fixed term maternity cover, to the Tournament Manager position. His contract was due to run out three months after Olivia’s expected return date. This meant that Olivia would be managed by Jeremy for three months after she returned.

Dave circulated the new structure across the workforce but he forgot to include Olivia. When Olivia eventually saw the email ‎she believed she had been replaced by Jeremy and was upset. This caused a relapse in her post-natal depression and she required counselling.

Olivia raised a grievance but the Chief Operations Officer, Neil, did not uphold her complaints. Neil admitted there were shortcomings in the restructuring process and ‎offered an apology. He claimed that Dave had promoted Jeremy on merit and Olivia’s omission from the structure was an oversight that would quickly be rectified. Olivia was not happy with this response and she continued to suffer from post-natal depression and dreaded the prospect of returning to work.

What Martin Searle Solicitors did

Our Employment Law Team in Crawley advised Olivia that Dave had approached the restructure and Jeremy’s promotion in a discriminatory manner. These included:

  • Maintaining that Jeremy was the right person for the job without giving Olivia any serious consideration despite her strong track record within the Association, having scored well in all of her appraisals
  • Failing to comply with the Association’s recruitment policy, which required him to advertise the post, allow at least two weeks for applications and shortlist and interview candidates. There was no evidence that he had undertaken any of these steps
  • Suggesting that Jeremy could ‘help Olivia to settle back into the business – if she came back’ – suggesting that ‎she would require help not the opportunity of promotion, and assuming she might not want to return
  • ‎Failing to explain why he left Olivia out of the structure, which only made sense if he was not anticipating Olivia returning to work after her maternity leave

We helped Olivia ‎to appeal against Neil’s grievance decision to the CEO. The CEO rejected Olivia’s appeal although she conceded that the way this restructure had been handled caused her concern. She maintained that future restructures would be handled better, but she maintained that Dave had not intended to discriminate against Olivia.

We advised Olivia that the way her employer had approached her appeal was legally incorrect. We explained that she had a strong maternity discrimination claim and helped Olivia lodge a claim in the Employment Tribunal shortly after she had returned to work.

During the proceedings the Association had to disclose a number of revealing internal emails which demonstrated that Dave had assumed Olivia would not be returning to work after her maternity leave. This included plans to retain Jeremy permanently to replace Olivia.

The result

The ‎Association agreed to pay a financial settlement that was higher than the likely award she would receive if her case went to the Employment Tribunal.

This allowed Olivia to work four days a week for six months without any reduction in her pay and gave her additional time to enjoy being with her young daughter. This compensated her for her loss of opportunity to bond with her daughter while she was depressed.

Dave decided to leave the Association and Jeremy’s contract was allowed to expire‎. Neil apologised for not upholding her grievance which restored Olivia’s trust and confidence in her employer.

If you require expert Employment Law advice contact our team on 01273 609911, or email

Martin Searle Solicitors, 9 Marlborough Place, Brighton, BN1 1UB
T: 01273 609 991

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