Everyday sexism and misogyny are alive and kicking
In Sommer v Swiss re Corporate Solutions Services, a tribunal has determined that the Claimant was subjected to sex discrimination, harassment, pregnancy discrimination and unfair dismissal after her male head of department made comments about her breasts and labelled her as ‘demanding’.
The Claimant worked for the Respondent from June 2017, until she was made redundant following maternity leave in 2020.
The Tribunal heard that the Claimant had been subjected to inappropriate comments such as ‘if I had breasts like yours, I would be demanding too’ and ‘I bet you like to be on top in bed.’ The perpetrator was the Claimant’s manager (Mr Llewellyn) with whom she had a difficult relationship – after she had raised a sex discrimination grievance in February 2019 he told her to ‘shut up’ when she was talking in a team conference call.
In March 2019, Mr Llewellyn accused the Claimant of having a ‘dominant personality’ when she asked about career progression and asked her to ‘speak less and listen more’. The Claimant was advised to ‘show more vulnerability’ and to ‘take a more submissive role’. The Tribunal concluded that the Claimant was subject to sex discrimination because of her gender following her grievance in February 2019.
The situation escalated in April 2019 when the Claimant informed the Respondent that she was pregnant and intended to take maternity leave and thereafter return to work. The Tribunal saw records showing that Mr Llewellyn, and another manager, Mr Zellweger, had then worked to initiate a performance improvement plan or make a business case for redundancy for the Claimant on her return from maternity leave. Mr Llewellyn and Mr Zellweger had also made enquiries to HR with regards to the Claimant’s pregnancy, medical condition and flexible working as they stated they were not happy with her performance and would like to explore their ‘options’ in respect of a performance improvement plan. This is despite the fact that the Claimant’s performance had previously been seen as positive.
The Claimant saw her requests to work from home, due to pregnancy related illness, refused and it was clear that Mr Llewellyn was not prepared to give her any leeway. From July 2020 onwards, the Claimant returned to work part time and was ostracised repeatedly by Mr Llewellyn. She was omitted from deals and excluded from team meetings.
The Claimant was eventually made redundant on the spurious ground of ‘business need’. The Tribunal understood that the use of redundancy was retrofitted onto a pre-existing decision to ‘exit’ the Claimant. Mr Llewellyn considered that the Claimant’s conduct merited dismissal which the Tribunal concluded was an act of direct sex discrimination. The case will now be listed for a remedies hearing.
The full judgment can be found here.
This blog was written by Elizabeth McGlone, Partner at didlaw.