Horseback maternity meeting costs employer at tribunal

A groom has won a maternity discrimination suit against her employer, an Epsom Derby-winning stables, after one of her managers refused to dismount during a meeting about her return to work.

Charlotte Holloway was due to return to work after a period of maternity leave that had been filled with confusion over pay and pension errors.

While meeting with her boss and her manager, the boss’ partner, she was forced to stand as they declined to dismount.

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Holloway had wanted her days and hours to remain the same as they had been before she left on maternity leave. These were her contracted hours, and she had arranged childcare around them.

Holloway then asked for an accommodation to make half her days could remain as before, and was denied by her employer, Stephen Cooper, and dismissed.

Employment judge Corrigan said: “The claimant then said she felt like if she had never had a baby, she would still be working there with no problems, and Mr Cooper agreed.”

The case presents a typical issue for employers dealing with returns from maternity leave, according to Matt Jenkin, employment partner at law firm Moorcrofts.

Jenkin told HR magazine the employer seems not to have understood its obligations once Holloway had stated her intention to return.

He said: “Attempts by the employer to justify why the employee couldn’t return to her previous working pattern left the tribunal less than impressed.” 

He added that by agreeing that Holloway would have been treated differently without a baby, Cooper sealed the decision: “The finding of unfair dismissal and discrimination was not surprising.”

Joeli Brearly, founder and CEO of working mothers’ group Pregnant then Screwed, told HR magazine that employers needed to stop putting hurdles in the way of returning mothers.

She said: “Employers need to get off their high horse – quite literally, in this case. Having a baby should not signal the end of a career. In this case the mother was simply looking to return to the working arrangement she had before she left. 

“Arranging childcare at the drop of a hat is almost impossible with waiting lists through the roof in the UK. Ignoring the needs of parents will only result in more talent needlessly lost from our labour market.”

In March 2023 HR magazine reported that three quarters (76%) of mothers who paid for childcare said it no longer made sense financially for them to work.

Holloway was awarded more than £4,000 in compensation by the tribunal for unfair dismissal.