In the case of Commerzbank AG v Rajput, the Employment Appeal Tribunal found that Commerzbank’s strong discouragement of Ms Rajput attending meetings whilst on maternity leave and the diminution of her role on her return to work to be acts of discrimination.
The Claimant, Ms Rajput, was a senior compliance adviser and vice president at Commerzbank. The Claimant and two others (one male and one female) applied for the role of head of market compliance. The male applicant was appointed as acting head of market compliance and “point person” despite the Claimant being deputy head of the team. The decision was made on the basis that women were “divisive personalities” and the male applicant was “the most innocuous” and a “good communicator”. The decision maker further stated that he felt the women had tried to “further their interests” when coming to him to put forward their positions which he found “intrusive”.
After the Claimant announced her pregnancy, the post was filled by an external candidate who allowed the male applicant to continue to act as “point person”.
During the Claimant’s maternity leave she attempted to phone in to two meetings, however, was strongly discouraged from doing so by Commerzbank. The explanation given was that “being a father myself, I know what the early days of having a newborn baby involves”.
When the Claimant returned to work she was told that all of her matters had been overseen by her deputy in her absence and that no handover was required, effectively removing managerial aspects of her role.
The Claimant brought claims of maternity discrimination, sex discrimination and harassment.
The Employment Tribunal and Employment Appeal Tribunal found:
- There was no reason the Claimant should not attend meetings whilst on maternity leave and the discouragement of the Claimant from doing so was an act of maternity discrimination.
- There had been no real intention of the Claimant’s colleague to hand the managerial aspects of the Claimant’s work back to her when she returned from maternity leave. The Tribunal found that the Claimant’s role had been diminished and she had been side-lined. This was considered to be an act of ongoing maternity discrimination by Commerzbank.
The claims of sex discrimination and harassment were however remitted back to a fresh tribunal for a rehearing due to the Tribunal’s findings on these matters being based on stereotypical assumptions about women.
This case is a reminder that employers should maintain contact with employees on maternity leave and to some extent be ‘led by them’ as to the form this takes. If an employee wishes to have greater involvement in the business, this should not be blocked based on assumptions.
Employers should also ensure that when employees return to work following maternity leave, their status and role is not eroded to the extent that statutory rights are breached.