Eliza ran a stationery supplies company and employed Sue as her part-time Office Manager.
After a few years of working well together, Eliza and Sue decided to set up a delivery business. Eliza made the larger financial investment while Sue ran it on the days she was not working as Office Manager.
A month later, Sue fell pregnant but she was afraid to tell Eliza. After several weeks she realised that she had no choice but to announce her news. Although on one level Eliza was pleased for Sue, Eliza made a number of apparently innocent remarks about how her business would be in trouble if all employees became pregnant. Eliza also told Sue that she regretted having invested into their deliveries business and felt like she had wasted her money.
Their friendship remained quite positive – they continued to meet up outside of work and Eliza even went shopping for baby clothes with Sue. However, things were not quite the same at work.
During a work outing, Eliza joked about how Sue had been apprehensive about breaking the news of her pregnancy. Although Eliza had not intended any offence, Sue found this belittling.
Shortly before Sue was due to go on maternity leave, Eliza approached her about an error on a stationery bill. Sue reacted badly to this and swore at Eliza. Eliza told Sue that she was putting her response down to “pregnancy hormones”. Eliza thought she was doing Sue a favour, but Sue felt this was the final straw. Sue therefore resigned and raised a grievance about Eliza’s treatment of her.
Eliza felt the grievance was disingenuous and that Sue was exaggerating her upset. Eliza sourced an unqualified HR Consultant from the internet who misadvised and handled the process badly.
Sue then brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal which included a string of allegations of pregnancy and maternity discrimination, as well as constructive dismissal and wrongful dismissal. Eliza decided to lodge a defence to the claim herself but soon realised that she was out of her depth when a hearing was listed.
Matthew attended a Preliminary Hearing on Eliza’s behalf and persuaded Sue to withdraw certain parts of her claim. Matthew also persuaded Sue that a number of her allegations were “harassment” rather than direct discrimination. Since the Equality Act does not recognise harassment on grounds of pregnancy or maternity this meant a number of her remaining allegations were misconceived. A short and cost-effective timetable for dealing with the rest of the case was then agreed.
Matthew then gave Eliza clear advice about the claim brought against her by Sue – both its prospects, its likely value, and what we might achieve. Matthew advised that although a number of Sue’s minor allegations would not succeed, Eliza was at risk of Sue succeeding in bringing a claim of constructive dismissal and discrimination because of the assumptions and offensive comments that Eliza had made about Sue’s pregnancy hormones.
After receiving Sue’s Schedule of Loss which placed a very high value on her claim, Matthew negotiated a favourable settlement on Eliza’s behalf. He illustrated to Sue’s solicitors why parts of her claim were misconceived, he set out the weaknesses in her case, and he showed that Sue’s expectations were unrealistic. Matthew persuaded Sue to accept around 20% of her original offer, which reflected only a nominal amount more than the legal costs that Eliza would incur in preparing for and attending a Final Hearing.
Eliza was able to avoid the risk of a Tribunal award being made against her business and save the management costs of attending a two-day hearing. By agreeing appropriate settlement terms, Eliza was able to secure a commitment to confidentiality which protected the reputation of her business. Eliza’s business is still trading successfully.