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Discrimination - dismissal after maternity leave

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Lyons v DWP Jobcentre Plus 

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) held in this case that a dismissal for absences due to post-natal depression arising after maternity leave did not amount to sex and/or pregnancy and maternity discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 (“the Act”).

By being dismissed, the Claimant was treated unfairly for a pregnancy-related illness. However, unfavourable treatment only amounts to discrimination under the Act if it occurs between the beginning of pregnancy and the end of maternity leave, known as the protected period. As the Claimant was dismissed after the protected period her claim failed.

The Claimant’s claim for direct sex discrimination also failed. Following the European Court of Justice case of Brown v Rentokil, the EAT held that if a woman suffers a pregnancy-related illness which extends beyond the period of her maternity leave, the employer is entitled to take into account the period of absence after the maternity leave and compare that period with any period of sickness of a man.

In Practice

Employment Partner Kate Fretten says “This case has helped clarify the law in this area. It is now clear that, in order to succeed with a claim of sex and/or pregnancy and maternity discrimination, a Claimant has to have been treated less favourably during the protected period, i.e. between the beginning of her pregnancy and the end of her maternity leave. This will be a relief to employers who previously were unsure when they could start taking a woman’s absences in to account for disciplinary purposes.”

At Frettens, all of our solicitors offer a free initial meeting to chat on the phone to answer your questions. If this article raises issues for you or your business, please call us on 01202 499255 and Kate or Paul will be happy to discuss it with you.