04 October 2010 #Employment
The Employment Appeal Tribunal has held that gossip about an employee`s pregnancy was discrimination and harassment under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.
Ms Nixon brought a claim for constructive dismissal, sex and pregnancy discrimination and harassment after gossip arose in the workplace about her pregnancy. At a Christmas party Ms Nixon was seen kissing another employee and then going to a hotel room with him. Some weeks later, she discovered she was pregnant and informed her work (a law firm). Within an hour of her doing so, speculation and gossip began about the identity of the child`s father.
Ms Nixon raised a grievance about this, and asked to work at a different office to the HR manager who had started the gossip. Her grievance was not dealt with and her request for transfer was refused. She was not paid for the time she stayed away from work because of it.
A Tribunal found that the employer had constructively dismissed Ms Nixon, but dismissed the claims for discrimination and harassment. The Tribunal also reduced the compensatory award for unfair dismissal by 90% to reflect what it saw as the employee`s culpable conduct at the Christmas party and after her dismissal. The Judge described her as "almost exclusively the author of her own misfortune…by acting so publicly, so foolishly and so irresponsibly".
Ms Nixon appealed against the finding that there had been no discrimination or harassment and also against the reduction to the compensatory award.
The EAT decided that the Tribunal had been wrong not to make findings of sex discrimination, pregnancy-related discrimination and harassment. The EAT said that the gossip was about the paternity of her child and connected with her pregnancy. It was unwanted conduct and met the definition of harassment on grounds of her sex. Also, the treatment of Ms Nixon when she remained away from work was sex discrimination as it was related to her pregnancy.
Finally, the EAT decided that the Tribunal was wrong to reduce the unfair dismissal compensatory award by 90% on the basis of the employee`s conduct.