A new mum has won a £9,000 payout after she wasn’t invited to a Christmas party while she was on maternity leave.
A tribunal has ruled that Catriona Howie was discriminated against when her employers didn’t tell her about a last minute drinks event for staff while she was off work.
At the time of the party Mrs Howie had given birth to her daughter, who she named after Elvis Presley, and was on leave caring for her.
As a result of the company’s failure to include her while she was on her year-long leave, Mrs Howie is now in line for substantial compensation due to ‘injury to her feelings’, the panel ruled.
However, her additional claim that a colleague had discriminated against her by mocking her for naming her daughter after the music legend who died in 1977 aged 42.
The tribunal was told that Mrs Howie worked for luxury kitchen and design firm Holloways Of Ludlow as general manager for six years, starting in 2013.
After going on maternity leave in July 2017 – during which she had baby Presley – Mrs Howie and the company agreed she would return to work the following summer.
However, the firm – which has showrooms in London – was struggling financially, the tribunal heard.
As a result it decided not to hold a traditional Christmas party that year but organised a trip to the pub instead, putting £200 behind the bar.
“Most of the London based staff attended,” the tribunal was told. “No one invited (Mrs Howie). We accept that it was a short notice and informal event and there were no formal invitations.
“Staff were informed by word of mouth or text message.”
Director Sarah Nelson told the hearing that ‘it did not occur to her’ to invite Mrs Howie.
“It was not a proper party and nor was it a normal year,” she said.
She accepted that she would have been invited if she had been at work.
In February 2018, Mrs Howie was left ‘deeply upset’ during an email exchange with the company’s finance controller Amar Shukla.
He messaged her saying: “When I…realised that you had named your daughter ‘Presley’ I thought that you are in serious need of therapy!
“I cannot understand how anyone can be fixated on someone that was dead before they were even born but I guess that is the power and allure of ‘the King’! Anyway I am sure that little Presley is a total bundle of joy and one that will soon be mobile.”
Mrs Howie told the hearing that she felt that a conscious effort was being made to make her feel unwelcome in the business.
And she said she was shocked when, while trying to arrange returning to work at the end of her maternity leave, she was told that due to the declining fortunes of the business the General Manager role was no longer required.
Although the company said it would find her another role, on the day she did return to work in July 2019, she was told by Ms Nelson she was being made redundant.
Finding the company guilty of maternity discrimination, Judge Corinna Ferguson said: “We have accepted that (the firm) did not hold a Christmas party in 2018 in the way that it normally would, but it is not in dispute that there were informal drinks in late December, subsidised by the (company), in lieu of a Christmas party.
“We accept there was no deliberate decision to exclude (Mrs Howie). However, the reason she was not invited was that no-one thought about her.
“That was because she was on maternity leave. Had she been at work around this time, she would certainly have been invited. She was overlooked because she was on maternity leave.”
The panel ruled that Holloways had also discriminated against her by withholding information about the financial position of the company and her likely redundancy.
Finding she had also been unfairly dismissed, the tribunal said that there was a ‘total failure’ by the company to warn her that she might lose her job.
However, in relation to Mr Shukla’s email regarding her baby’s name, the panel dismissed her claim of discrimination.
“It was obviously a poorly-judged email, and we can see why (Mrs Howie) would be offended by it, but we find there is nothing to suggest he was motivated by (her) pregnancy or maternity leave,” the panel said.
“It was simply a failed attempt at humour in the context of an otherwise entirely friendly exchange.”
Judge Ferguson said that the panel would consider compensation of between £900 to £8,800 a ‘likely’ award for ‘injury to feelings’ in addition to the £1,027 the firm was ordered to pay for unpaid wages and holiday pay.