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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I was reading my employers' latest 'Equality Bulletin' yesterday, in an effort to become less racist, sexist and homophobic, and to my delight, it featured a fantastic article under the heading 'Case Law Update'. Admittedly, it doesn't sound like the kind of headline that makes you want to read on, but it was well worth the effort. It turned out to be a brief report on an employment tribunal entitled 'Stone v Ramsay Health Care UK Operations Ltd', in which the claimant was awarded £18,000 in compensation after suffering discrimination at work.

Being a public legal document, the full judgement is available online, and if you're ever at a loose end on a wet Wednesday afternoon, I can thoroughly recommend browsing through that PDF. It's like reading a script from 'The Office'. Only funnier and more cringe-worthy. Not even Rumpole of the Bailey made law so entertaining.

The case involves a lady called Michelle Stone (the claimant), who was a General Manager at the Winfield Hospital in Tewkesbury, when she fell pregnant and subsequently went off on maternity leave. She was replaced by an interim manager called Tania Terblanche. Which is where the problems started. Now, I'm sure Tania's a lovely lady and is kind to animals, children and the sick, but when it comes to the sisterhood, her opinions leave something to be desired. According to the tribunal, once she was in position, "Ms Terblanche expressed her view that it was ridiculous for a woman to take 12 months' maternity leave". And I, for one, agree with her. They should get five years at least. But unfortunately for Tania, Michelle opted to take her full entitlement.

You'd think that Tania would be pleased to get the manager's job for a year, but apparently not. Michelle worked right up until Friday 5th February 2010, and on Monday the 8th she gave birth via caesarean section. Two days later, on Wednesday the 10th, she received an e-mail from Tania which read:

"Hi Michelle. I think you should give me your views on the email below. Do you have any suggestions? Your feedback would be much appreciated. Regards Tania."

I'm sure Michelle would have loved to do a bit of work for her interim replacement, but sadly she was in hospital at the time, drugged up to the eyeballs with painkillers, with a newborn baby by her side. So the e-mail went unanswered. Fortunately Tania's a patient woman, so she gave Michelle another two days, before instructing her PA to phone the woman on Friday the 10th, and tell her to respond to the e-mail.

Personally I would have responded. Ideally with a few swear words. But instead, Michelle calmly explained to the PA that the reason she's on maternity leave is because SHE'S JUST HAD A BLOODY BABY, and that having only just arrived home from hospital with some prescription drugs and a four-day old child, it's probably not the best time to be hassling her for some unpaid work.

You'd think that might have been the end of it. But oh no. The tribunal report states that "Thereafter, through March, Ms Terblanche continued emailing the claimant on a number of occasions asking her questions and seeking information and advice". After all, it was "ridiculous" for her to be taking maternity leave just because she's had a baby, so why shouldn't she keep responding to work e-mails? She's getting maternity pay; surely it's the least she could do?

Michelle disagreed, and stopped responding. So what did Tania do? She wrote a formal letter of complaint to their manager, raising a grievance against Michelle, and stating that "she had felt unsupported by the claimant when the claimant was away on maternity leave".

I love that. But not as much as I love this direct quote from the employment tribunal's published report:

"Ms Terblanche thought the claimant was unprofessional and that it was all down to her hormones."

Marvellous. Michelle Stone was awarded £18,000 in compensation for the injury to her feelings, but frankly I think it was worth a lot more. You'd have to pay a fortune for a comedy script that good. I might turn it into a movie.


Phil's Mum said...

Well, you've already turned it into a blog, so only one small step further to make it into a movie.  Its one occasion when I think compensation was well deserved!