Northern Ireland

Woman wins sex discrimination case after miscarriages

A woman who had two miscarriages and claimed she was sacked because of the time she took off work after them, has been awarded more than £12,500.

Linzi Close claimed that Belfast Audi Limited discriminated against her when it terminated her contract in 2011.

An employment tribunal found she was "subjected to unlawful discrimination on the grounds of her pregnancy-related illness".

Belfast Audi Limited said it would make "no comment".

Ms Close, who has since moved abroad, was an office worker with the company. She was responsible for paperwork relating to car sales.

She suffered her first miscarriage in January 2011 when she was 10 weeks pregnant. She took a week's sick leave. Her doctor had told her to take three weeks.

Ms Close told the tribunal that on her return to work her manager, Colin Pedlow, had asked whether she had really had a miscarriage or whether she just wanted a week off.

He had also suggested she drink less cola, eat fewer chips and take more exercise.

Mr Pedlow denied making the comments. He said he had suggested how a healthy lifestyle could assist with a successful pregnancy, and that he had made the remarks whilst sharing his own difficulties in starting a family.

The tribunal said that "on balance" it found that the comments had been made.

'Formal grievance'

Ms Close said she had complained but did not lodge a formal grievance.

She had a second miscarriage in April 2011 and took a week's sick leave. She told the tribunal that on her return Mr Pedlow again made comments about her weight and diet though she did not complain.

A short time later, Mr Pedlow held an appraisal meeting with Ms Close who was on six months probation.

She denied his claims that he had raised specific performance issues at the meeting, saying he had only spoken to her about timekeeping and attendance.

The company extended her probation because she had not been at work long enough to assess her performance.

Other than two days off for a cold, she had been off for one week after each of her two miscarriages.

Ms Close discovered she was pregnant again in mid June 2011, the day before her wedding and annual leave.

She was not able to come back to work as scheduled in mid-July due to pregnancy-related illness.

With the exception of a few days in late July, she remained on sick leave until early September.

Belfast Audi Limited claimed that while Ms Close was off, they had discovered that she had not completed some paperwork relating to car sales in the proper way.

The company said failure to do so could have resulted in it losing the Audi franchise and it started disciplinary proceedings.

Ms Close told the tribunal that the salesmen had been responsible for the incomplete paperwork. None of them was ever interviewed by the company. Ms Close was dismissed in October 2011.

The tribunal found that the company's failure to consider any disciplinary action against the salesmen for the incorrect completion of the sales paperwork, meant that it could conclude that she had been subjected to "unlawful discrimination".

The tribunal said it appeared that the company "was predisposed to terminate her employment" once the incomplete paperwork had been discovered.

Ms Close was awarded compensation totalling £12,521.