Woman ‘side-lined’ during maternity leave wins discrimination claim

Joanne Stronach, Head of Employment Law & HR considers the Employment Tribunal case of Ms J Rajput v Commerzbank AG (2018).

A compliance officer with an international bank who was “side-lined” after having a baby has won her claims of maternity and sex discrimination.

Jagruti Rajput joined Commerzbank AG in London as a senior compliance advisor in 2012.  By 2015 she was being considered as a possible candidate for head of department.

In 2016, she went on maternity leave and Sheralee Bailey was recruited to take her place until she returned.  However, Ms Rajput claimed that her duties were really carried out by a colleague, Julia Burch, who was junior to her at that time.

While on maternity leave, Ms Rajput contacted the bank about attending a quarterly meeting but was “strongly discouraged” from doing so. She attended a meeting prior to her return expecting a formal handover to her, but no such handover took place.

When she returned to work, she felt that her position had been eroded. Her maternity cover, Ms Bailey, had left as planned but Ms Burch was now carrying out much of her work. She complained that she was being marginalised.

An internal talent review again identified her as a potential department leader, but this time suggested she would be ready in two or three years.

Ms Rajput, who still works for the bank, brought claims of sex and maternity discrimination to the Employment Tribunal, which found in her favour.

If found that while she was on maternity leave, her junior colleague Ms Burch “had taken over nearly the entirety of her role”.

Judge Tayler said: “When Ms Bailey joined, rather than providing maternity cover by doing the Claimant’s (Ms Rajput) job, she provided support, advice and supervision to Ms Burch who continued to essentially undertake the Claimant’s job.

“That is why no there was no handover on the Claimant’s return.  There was no real intention of Ms Burch handing back the work. Since the Claimant’s return, despite the protestations to the contrary, she and Ms Burch have been essentially at the same level.

“We find that the Claimant was side-lined on her return from maternity leave and her role was diminished. That is continuing, and we consider it is ongoing maternity discrimination.”

The tribunal also found that Ms Rajput had been subjected to sex discrimination because she was not fairly considered for the head of department role in 2015. She and another female candidate had been described as “divisive”.  The term would not have been used about a man in similar circumstances and amounted to direct sex discrimination.

If you need any advice or would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law, please call 01228 516666 to speak with Joanne or alternatively click here to email Joanne direct.

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Client 10th February 2017