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Marine biologist awarded nearly £130,000 after winning unfair dismissal case over maternity bias

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

In the case of Mrs C Law v The University of Cumbria a marine biologist has won more than £120,000 in a pregnancy discrimination case after she was made redundant from her job at a university despite it claiming it would protect ‘vulnerable’ workers during the pandemic.

Caroline Law, 35, lost her job in June 2020 just two months before she was due to go on maternity leave, an employment tribunal heard.

The tribunal praised the married mother-of-one for representing herself at the four-day tribunal while juggling being a new mother, moving her family to Scotland, and arranging care for her elderly and disabled father.

The tribunal in Manchester heard during the meeting in which Ms Law was told she was being made redundant she was left ’embarrassed and upset’ by ‘weird and inappropriate’ remarks by Rachel Lowthian.

The panel heard: ‘In the context of Mrs Law facing financial difficulty, Mrs Lowthian volunteered some advice about securing child benefit, sourcing second-hand baby-clothes and also [although the context for this is less clear] the benefits of a particular type of thermometer and techniques for bathing a baby.

Although the comments were ‘well-intentioned’, Ms Law found them ‘weird and inappropriate’ and left her wondering whether her redundancy had anything to do with her pregnancy, the panel heard. When Ms Law tried to appeal her sacking in June 2020 the university’s CEO David Chesser took a ‘perfunctory’ approach to her claim and rejected her argument that her pregnancy made her ‘vulnerable’.

Employment judge Joanne Dunlop concluded: ‘Mrs Lowthian was well-intentioned and [we] believe that this was also apparent to Mrs Law.

‘Mrs Law’s concern was not so much about the advice itself, but about what it said about the redundancy process that Mrs Lowthian was spending the meeting dispensing such advice.

‘It seems Mr Chesser was rejecting Mrs Law’s reasonable point that pregnancy itself creates a vulnerability.’ Having regard to that context, we find Mr Chesser’s comments were unfavourable treatment on the grounds of her pregnancy.

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