Steve Brennan, founder of Bespoke Digital Agency in Bamber Bridge, was found to have unfairly dismissed Aimee Sanderson after she told him she was expecting a baby.
An employment tribunal heard Brennan reacted sarcastically when Mrs Sanderson announced she was pregnant and made numerous of dark hints about the 27-year-old’s future with the company before firing her.
Mrs Sanderson, who lives with her husband Dean, 34, and their 17-month old son Charlie in Garstang, says that being awarded damages, while important, comes secondary to the principle of getting justice over her wrongful dismissal.
“It was about teaching him a lesson,” she said, referring to Mr Brennan. “I wanted him to feel the strain and pressure of this because of the strain and pressure that it’s had on my family.
“Dean’s been working stupid hours to get us to this point. The whole process has been really stressful - over two years battling my mental health and bringing up Charlie.
“It’s had a ripple effect on everyone we hold dear.
“It became a part of life.“I’m hoping that this is the end and I don’t have to deal with them anymore.
“I want to enjoy my family and go and get myself a job and enjoy a career with someone who takes care of their employees.
“The money is a big thing but it’s the principle of getting to the end so that people understand what this man is and what this company is.
“I’m not expecting anymore that they were going to give me an apology.”
When Aimee found out she was pregnant two years ago 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 Bespoke, responded “sarcastically” saying, ‘well that’s good news isn’t it’.
From that point in July 2017 Aimee says she was hauled into meetings about her performance before she was eventually dismissed for gross misconduct in December 2017.
Furious at her treatment, Aimee took her case to an employment tribunal, which found in February 2019 that her claims of unfair dismissal and unfavourable treatment were well founded.
Now a unanimous judgment of the tribunal ruled that Bespoke Digital Agency must pay Aimee £23,120.48 and interest of £2,010.58 “as compensation for the acts of discrimination”.
In deciding the compensation figure judges from the employment tribunal stated: “We accept that stress, worry and anxiety continued to the end of her pregnancy.
“We found that, after her dismissal, the claimant was worrying about how they would, as a family, manage.
“We accept that the proceedings have caused the claimant considerable financial, physical and emotional stress and pressure.”
In making their decision the judges took into consideration pension contributions which Bespoke had not paid into Aimee’s account, childcare costs, injury to feelings and the financial loss in the seven weeks from dismissal to the beginning of Aimee’s maternity leave.
The ruling states: “We found that pension contributions had been made throughout the period of January 22 to October 22, 2018 but no contributions were made in the period from the claimant’s dismissal until her maternity leave began.
“The claimant had been dismissed on December 1, 2017.
“In our calculations, therefore, we include pension loss for a period of December 1, 2017 to January 21, 2018 and then for the period from October 23, 2018 until the end of the future loss period.”
Judges also took childcare costs into account. The case report states: “As a matter of principle it is correct to take account of the childcare costs which the claimant will incur. She would have incurred these had she remained in employment with the respondent.
“We consider the correct approach to calculating compensation for loss of earnings is to award the difference between the childcare costs and her earnings.”
Coming out of the last two years fighting her corner Aimee said: “I think you are pushed to become a stronger person because a tribunal is a really serious thing and it’s hard to go through.
“I didn’t realise I had it in me. If it hadn’t been for family and friends I think I would have thrown in the towel at some point. But I’ve come out the other end and it feels really good.”
Based in Bamber Bridge and specialising in web design and consultancy, the company said it was “staggered” by the ruling and that the court process had been “traumatic” for them.
Bespoke Digital, which was set up by Steve Brennan, was ordered to pay a total of £25,131.06 for sacking Mrs Sanderson unfairly. But speaking after the judge’s ruling, a company spokesman didn’t offer an apology to Mrs Sanderson for her treatment and instead complained that the hearing had had an adverse impact on the Bespoke Digital team.
A spokesman from Bespoke said: “Being taken through the process was traumatic for our team and we are pleased that it has concluded, although we are staggered by the final decision.”
How the case developed
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 to 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.”