An employee who was wrongfully sacked after telling her boss she was pregnant has won her case for unfair dismissal.
When Aimee Sanderson, 26, found out she was pregnant she was thrilled, especially as she had suffered a miscarriage earlier in the year.
But when she told her boss she was shocked at his reaction.
She says that Steve Brennan, founder of digital agency Bespoke based in Bamber Bridge, responded “sarcastically” saying, ‘well that’s good news isn’t it’.
From that point in July 2017 Aimee, who lives with her husband Dean, 33, and their little baby Charlie in Garstang, says she was hauled into meetings about her performance before she was eventually dismissed for gross misconduct in December 2017.
She said: “Some of the things the CEO said to me throughout those months were dismissive. I had thought I’d had quite a good relationship with him before.
“I became convinced it was because I was pregnant.”
Furious at her treatment, Aimee took her case to an employment tribunal, which found that her claims of unfair dismissal and unfavourable treatment were well founded.
Aimee said: “You can’t imagine how it feels to feel that your job might be at risk.
“My stress levels went through the roof.”
Aimee also claimed that after his response to her good news that she was pregnant, Mr Brennan also told her: “There’s just too many people in that team and not enough work, you know what that means don’t you”.
Aimee had suffered a miscarriage in April 2017 after trying to have a baby for over a year.
She told the Post that his words came across to her like a “veiled threat”.
“His reaction was incredible,” she said. “It knocked me off my feet.
“It was common knowledge in the office that I had had a miscarriage.”
The report of the employment tribunal, which took place in Manchester on December 11-13, 2018 and February 1, 2019, documents how while Aimee was away on holiday in August Mr Brennan and Aimee’s line manager Lauren Grice had questioned Aimee’s colleagues about her, “digging for information,” asking questions about her work and if she was under performing.
According to the report of the tribunal, Judge Hilary Slater found that “an inference of discrimination could potentially be drawn” after Ms Grice asked staff how they felt about Aimee working from home - despite Ms Grice already having given her permission to do so.
The report states: “We conclude that this behaviour, which does not appear to have any rationale, other than to stir up discord in relation to the claimant, is a matter from which, together with other matters, an inference of discrimination could potentially be drawn.”
Ms Grice had also been critical in August when Aimee had to call into work with a sickness relating to her pregnancy.
Aimee had told her line manager that because she was pregnant she was not able to take strong medication for her migraine.
The tribunal report states: “We found that Ms Grice said that being off work was detrimental to the team and would have a knock-on effect.”
Telling the Post about the conversation, Aimee said: “It was really, really confusing. I didn’t really understand what I’d done wrong. I did get up and go in the next day purely out of fear of losing my job.”
Aimee was also excluded from personal development meetings when other team members were given such meetings.
Judge Slater makes it clear in the report that “direct evidence of discrimination is rare. We must consider what inferences we can properly draw from all the relevant surrounding circumstances.”
Ahead of a disciplinary hearing Mr Brennan set out his allegations in a letter to Aimee.
The grievances listed included:
++ “That a significant amount of work promised to and paid for by the company’s clients which you are responsible for delivering personally or for managing the delivery of was not properly or not delivered at all;
++ “That this has adversely affected the company’s relationships with some clients’;
++ “That this is a pattern over many months rather than an isolated or exceptional issue.”
According to the findings from the tribunal: “The letter stated the company’s view that these allegations constituted gross misconduct. Although the allegations referred to “clients” in the plural, the only evidence provided by way of the enclosures to the letter related to one client.”
After being suspended, Aimee contacted solicitors who wrote to Bespoke and according to tribunal records: “The letter asserted that the client was already extremely dissatisfied with the respondent Bespoke Digital when the claimant (Aimee) took over the account and had already made attempts to terminate the company’s retainer.”
However the tribunal document continues: “These serious allegations of dishonest behaviour were never put to the claimant. There is no evidence of an investigation to this effect. Ms Bamber, who was presented as having conducted the investigation, made no investigation into such allegations. There are no conclusions to this effect in the letter informing the claimant of the reasons for her dismissal.
“Allegations of this nature appear for the first time in the outcome letter from the appeal.”
In the concluding comments of the document which records the employment tribunal the report states: “We conclude that the claimant (Aimee) has proved facts from which we could conclude that her pregnancy or intended maternity leave was a material factor in the decision to dismiss her.
“The burden, therefore, passes to the respondent (Bespoke Digital Agency) to satisfy us that the reason for dismissal was not materially influenced by the claimant’s pregnancy or intention to take maternity leave.
“We conclude that the respondent has not satisfied us that pregnancy or maternity had no material influence on the decision to dismiss.”
The report continues: “It appears to us that Mr Brennan took a decision, even before disciplinary proceedings were initiated, that the claimant was to be dismissed and concerns were exaggerated in such a way as to attempt to justify a finding of gross misconduct.”
Aimee Sanderson and her son Charlie, above; Steve Brennan of Aimee’s former employer Bespoke Internet, a digital web agency based in Bamber Bridge.
Aimee’s little boy Charlie is now a year old, and after receiving the tribunal results she is determined to begin a new chapter and is looking for a new job.
She said: “When I sat there at the tribunal and everything was picked apart it was horrific.
“I was terrified. I walked in and they were all standing outside the tribunal.
“I was shaking. The feeling of having to see them again.
“Just knowing that I was going to have to go through all the details.
“I was going to be interrogated and questioned on it by his bar”rister.
I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
“I really do understand why some people don’t go through with it.
“But if I hadn’t taken the company all the way that I took them, what happens when the next person gets pregnant?
“The whole experience put a lot of stress on my marriage, my parents .
“But if you do something that you know in your heart is right then I think you are stronger from it.”
Judgement of the employment tribunal:
Ultimately the unanimous judgment of the tribunal was that:
++ The complaints of unfavourable treatment contrary to Sections 18 and 39 of the Equality Act 2010 are well founded.
++ The complaint of unfair dismissal contrary to Sections 94 and 99 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 is well founded.
There will now be a Remedy Hearing where judges will decide how much Bespoke Digital Agency must award Aimee. It takes place on April 26.
Lauren Grice, head of partnerships at Bespok,e told the Post in a statement that the company would be appealing the tribunal judgement.
She said: “In 18 years as an employer we have consistently supported staff through family matters and have never before had to attend a tribunal.
“The employee was dismissed for reasons of performance and conduct in 2017.”