“Solicitor sacked weeks after telling boss she was pregnant” – another eye catching headline, reporting on Dobson v Michael Cook Law Firm. Surely a solicitors’ firm would not do anything like this without an arguably good reason? 
 
Indeed they would not. They asserted that a redundancy situation had arisen, as a result of “running out of money at the bank” and insufficient new conveyancing instructions coming in. There was no consultation or exploration of other options, only immediate summary dismissal of an employee who had less than two years’ qualifying service and could not claim unfair dismissal. 
 
But what had happened less than five weeks earlier? The firm’s sole director had approached Mrs Dobson to offer her a directorship, to take effect in 6 months’ time. There were further discussions over the following week. Mrs Dobson then revealed that she was 9 weeks pregnant, her main aim being to spare another employee from the risk of demotion. The director made a comment along the lines of “just have to leave it”. There was no further discussion of the directorship offer before the redundancy. 
 
The tribunal did not accept that the apparent economic downturn for the firm was the sole reason, or indeed a fair reason, for the redundancy. Was there sufficient evidence to draw an inference from primary facts that the firm’s decisions were because of Mrs Dobson’s pregnancy? 
 
Evidently so: “we find that, due to the proximity in time between the disclosure of the pregnancy and the respondent’s change of mind, they were materially influenced by the claimant’s pregnancy and we find that the withdrawal of the offer of promotion was because of the claimant’s pregnancy.” In turn, with no one else having been considered for redundancy, the firm “knew about the claimant’s pregnancy and had decided not to promote her…because of her pregnancy, and this demonstrated that [the firm was] consciously or unconsciously motivated by [her] pregnancy in their decision making process…there are primary facts from which we can conclude that the reason for dismissal was pregnancy”. 
 
With the burden of proof having shifted to the firm, it was not discharged. The bottom line, after four days in the tribunal where Mrs Dodds represented herself, a £26,000 award, including £12,000 for injured feelings. 
 
Timely professional advice might have saved this expense and embarrassment. Common sense would dictate looking for such advice where a pregnant woman’s continuing employment is under the spotlight. This is where we can come in. Contact David Cooper on 0121 325 5402 or via dmc@coxcooper.co.uk . 
 
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