A former employee of the Ministry of Defence’s Atomic Weapons Establishment is suing them for unfair dismissal and discrimination after she was made redundant in 2010. Jennifer Cox, 33, commenced part-time employment with the MOD in 2010 as website manager in charge of updating information on the base’ intranet. Five weeks after starting work, however, she informed her line manager that she was pregnant. After this Ms Cox started to attend antenatal appointments and take time off because of morning sickness and other pregnancy-related illnesses.
She told the Employment Tribunal that her line manager’s reaction was to tell her that she should “stop going off sick”. She was also told that she was at risk of being made redundant in an 800-person ‘cull’ of MOD staff. She was in fact made redundant on 12 July 2010. Ms Cox therefore decided to pursue the MOD for compensation for unfair dismissal and discriminating, alleging that even though she was employed on a part-time short-term (6 month) contract she had been assured by her former employer that there was a probability of her being kept on for longer.
Ms Cox appears to have grounds of complaint for both unfair dismissal and discrimination. She is probably claiming that her dismissal is substantively unfair – a decision that was without the range of reasonable responses given the circumstances and knowledge of the employer. There doesn’t appear to be any procedural failing on the facts as they stand from the report. The discrimination element of the case would be based, presumably, on a claim for discrimination on the protected grounds of sex and pregnancy. The types of discrimination involved would probably be harassment (conduct which had the purpose or effect of humiliating, degrading or causing an offensive working environment for Ms Cox), victimisation (subjecting Ms Cox to a detriment because of her claiming her statutory rights relating to her pregnancy), and/or direct discrimination (less favourable treatment than other colleagues who were not female and/or pregnant).
There is a probability that Ms Cox could show harassment (looking at the comment made by her line manager regarding her going off sick). If the incident was proven to have taken place then she would only have to have been reasonably offended by such conduct, even if the conduct in question wasn’t supposed to have been offensive. However, is it reasonable for a business-orientated (presumably, although it obviously depends on the context and tone in which it’s said) comment to be taken offensively? The victimisation and direct discrimination claims look stronger – it’s simply a case of showing that her being female and/or pregnant was the cause of her being dismissed. This is often hard to do – employers are often given wide discretion to make business-orientated decisions when redundancies are involved.