A Question Too Far

A nursery worker who told her female bosses she was pregnant a week after starting has won a discrimination claim OF £25,000 after she was asked if keeping the baby was a ‘good idea’.

New starter Darci Topping was subjected to ‘negative inferences’ about her pregnancy by her managers, was quizzed about the baby’s father and about her intention to go through with the birth.  The 23 year old – who was on minimum wage – was then ‘pressured’ into reducing her hours as the Covid-19 pandemic hit and then made redundant out of the blue, an employment tribunal heard.

But bosses at Stepping Stones Nursery the Lancashire village of Hoddlesden had ‘dressed up’ her sacking with a sham process because she was pregnant, the tribunal ruled.

Miss Topping, who now has one-year-old son Stanley, is set to receive compensation from the nursery after successfully suing it for pregnancy discrimination and unfair dismissal.

The hearing in Manchester was told qualified nursery nurse Miss Topping started at the nursery near Blackburn on February 24 in 2020 on a 37-hour-a-week contract.  A week later, on March 2, Miss Topping, from Blackburn, announced to her line manager Zara Costello that she was pregnant with her first child.

A tribunal report said: “A few days later, in the course of a discussion about her pregnancy, Ms Costello told her that Julie Mercer, the owner of the nursery, would ‘come round to it’, and she mentioned the fact that Miss Topping was on probation.

“Other comments were made, including questions about whether Miss Topping was, in fact, going to keep the baby and whether that would be a good idea, and reference was made to Miss Topping’s partner or father of the baby at the time.”

As the Covid-19 pandemic hit days later and Stepping Stones Nursery became worried about finances, Miss Topping was told her hours needed to be cut to 20 a week and wasn’t given any consultation.

She was forced to sign a ‘hastily’ typed up document agreeing to cutting her hours – but was the only worker to have her shifts formally cut.  Miss Topping was ‘anxious’ over the pandemic’s impact on her health and whether or not she would have a job, the tribunal heard.

She was placed on sick leave initially but then placed on furlough as well as other members of staff.

However, she was the only one to receive 80 per cent of wages for 20 hours a week, rather than 37.  Despite things being ‘stable’ at the nursery, she was made redundant out of the blue while on furlough, leaving her ‘very upset’.  Ms Costello even suggested she ‘might be better off on benefits’ during the telephone call.

The report said: “By April 20, 2020, the numbers of children attending the nursery each day had stabilised.”  Miss Topping was by then on furlough with other employees at no cost to the nursery.  What happened then was that Ms Costello simply rang up Miss Topping and announced her dismissal as redundancy.

“From the evidence presented, the Tribunal considered that the nursery dressed up her dismissal by constructing a redundancy process which either never took place or took place after the nursery made its decision to dismiss her.”

Miss Topping launched legal action, claiming the nursery ‘had a problem with pregnant employees’.

Employment Judge Marion Batten said: “The Tribunal concluded that the decision to make her redundant was a decision targeted at her alone – she was pregnant and in light of the paucity of the evidence, it was apparent that was the only difference.

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