An estate agent has won a sex discrimination case after her employer refused to accommodate her need to work shorter hours to pick up her daughter from nursery.
Alice Thompson told an employment tribunal that she wanted to leave the office at 5pm, rather than the usual 6pm, and to work a four-day week rather than five in order to meet her childcare arrangements.
This comes after a previous tribunal passed a judgement which found that women, due to their caring responsibilities, are less likely to be able to accommodate certain working patterns compared to men.
Telling her that the business could not afford for her to work part time, Paul Sellar, company director of the agency Manors, rejected her request, also citing a detrimental effect on the ability to meet customer demand and difficulty in re-organising work among existing staff.
Describing the case to the BBC as “a long exhausting journey”, the tribunal heard that Ms. Thompson had been successful at the agency, but when she announced her pregnancy, the relationship deteriorated.
Ms. Thompson said that the company made no effort to accommodate her childcare needs and left her with no option but to resign. Speaking to the BBC, she said:
I proposed what would have worked for me. If that didn’t work for the company, I would have been more than happy to hear a counter offer, what might work for them.
If they needed me for the full hours, maybe eight ’til five instead of nine ’til six, that’s something I could have worked around.
But it was shut down, every avenue, not listened to, not considered. And I was left with no other option but to resign.
The law states that after 26 weeks of employment, employees have the right to request flexible working. Whilst the employer is not obliged to accommodate the request, it has a duty to consider it fairly and cannot display discrimination.
She told the court that at a staff party, her boss Mr. Sellar said “why is she pregnant when we are doing so well? I was warned about employing a married woman of her age”, a comment that he denies making.
Eventually, Ms. Thompson resigned whilst still on maternity leave in December 2019 and brought a claim against the agency.
Judge Sarah Jane Goodman described her case as an “injustice because of her sex”, finding that she had been discriminated against by the denial of her request.
The tribunal subsequently awarded Thompson almost £185,000 (£184,961) for loss of earnings, pension contributions, injury to feelings, and interest.
The tribunal found that:
Here the claimant resented that flexible working appeared not to be considered properly – as in our finding it was not – and felt that this was an injustice because of her sex, which it was.