For many women falling pregnant is supposed to be one of the
happiest times of their life, but yet, according to statistics, an
increasing number of pregnant women appear to be finding themselves
subject to discriminatory conduct at the hands of their
The upwards trend is somewhat worrying and compounded by the
fact that so-called 'equal opportunities' employers are
still getting it wrong.
In a recent high profile case, leading UK city law firm, Travers
Smith, has just failed in its attempt to defend a pregnancy
discrimination claim issued against it by a former Trainee
Solicitor. The London Central Employment Tribunal upheld the
claimant's allegations that her pregnancy was indeed "the
effective cause" of the firm's decision not to offer her
permanent employment upon completion of her training, and awarded
her significant compensation.
Here, the trainee was nearing the completion of her two-year
training contract with the firm when she announced her pregnancy.
Some of us would immediately question why she chose not to wait
until after her qualification as a lawyer (particularly when it was
only a few weeks away) to make the announcement. However, based on
her exceptional performance as a trainee over the past two years,
there was no reason for her to suspect that she would not be
offered a permanent role with the firm on qualification as a
Instead, she claimed that once her pregnancy was announced the
entire attitude of the firm changed towards her. In particular, she
alleged during the hearing that there was a stark contrast in terms
of how she was supervised and acknowledged by various partners
before the announcement of her pregnancy, and how she was treated
and regarded by others once the announcement was made. She alleged
that her level of work seemed to tail off to the point that she
ceased to be busy with often very little to do, and that partners
seemed to stop bothering with her.
In its defence, Travers Smith relied on witness testimony from
the Managing Partner and the Training Supervisor which claimed that
the firm was wholly committed to diversity and equal opportunities.
It argued that the reason for failing to offer her a permanent role
on qualification was due to issues concerning performance, yet,
these issues (if true) had never been directly addressed with her
and she had always been led to believe that her performance was
second to none. Therefore, to suggest that poor performance was the
route cause for its decision not to offer permanent employment was
The Tribunal had no hesitation in ruling that the Trainee
Solicitor had been unfairly dismissed on the grounds of pregnancy
discrimination, and went further to suggest that the firm had
contrived a situation to specifically avoid employing her going
forward. The firm was aware of her pregnancy when it decided not to
offer her future employment and deliberately failed to make proper
enquiries as to why she would not be retained in the future,
despite her exemplary record.
In a slight dressing-down for the firm, the Tribunal directed
that all partners and senior management staff at Travers Smith be
required to participate in discrimination training which should be
The Tribunal also advised the firm to draft formal documentation
to include a transparent process for candidate selection upon
qualification, and allow candidates the opportunity to provide
feedback in the event of an unsuccessful application. In addition,
the firm should also draft a clearly defined grievance procedure
which would allow staff to raise discrimination issues (or any
other grievance) internally without the fear of being
The firm expressed its utter disappointment at the ruling but
has vowed to "take on board the lessons to be learned"
and claims to be determined to do everything it possibly can to
ensure that its staff are all treated equally. We can only hope
that Travers Smith does indeed take on board the recommendations;
since this ruling it has come to light that the firm had previously
been subject to two earlier complaints relating to pregnancy and
discrimination in 2009.
This latest decision is relevant for any employer; it sends a
strong message that the rights of pregnant women in the workplace
must be respected, whatever the nature of the work and whatever the
status of the employee. Therefore, if you find yourself in a
situation where an employee announces her pregnancy and you are not
sure how to handle the situation, please seek the necessary
employment advice before embarking on any course of action.
Remember, discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy is unlawful
and will not be tolerated.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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