A pregnant woman who says she was bullied at work and informed by a colleague that maternity leave is like holiday leave has won a payout of £15,000.
Susanne Rice, a former operations manager with Flint Studios Ltd, has told of how older male colleagues made her feel bullied and humiliated at a web development agency in Belfast in Northern Ireland.
The 36-year-old settled her claims of sex and age discrimination against her ex-employer for £15,000 – paid without admission of liability.
Ms Rice was the only woman on the firm’s senior leadership team, according to The Equality Commission, which supported Ms Rice.
She discovered she was pregnant at the end of January 2020 but did not disclose her pregnancy to her employer at an early stage because of her medical history.
After the outbreak of the Covid pandemic in March 2020, Ms Rice received a letter from her GP advising her to shield as a pregnant woman.
In April, Ms Rice’s employer asked for a copy of the letter. She was then invited to a meeting on May 21, at which she was told a redundancy process was starting.
Shortly after this meeting, Ms Rice told her employers that she was 20 weeks pregnant. She was then told of her redundancy on 29 May and her contract was terminated on 1 June.
Ms Rice said she raised grievances with her employer, but these were not upheld and an additional appeal was also dismissed.
The Equality Commission said she “alleged that her former employer excluded her from emails and meetings, preventing her from carrying out her job to the best of her ability”.
The Commission added: “When she was demonstrating new software, Susanne alleged that a male colleague said to her ‘I am older than you, I have more experience than you and so I know better’.
“On another occasion, she claimed that a senior male employee commented that ‘women have the life of it on maternity leave’ and it was ‘like an extended holiday’. Susanne claims she reminded attendees that it was a woman’s right to take up to a year off on maternity leave and it certainly wasn’t a holiday.”
Ms Rice also described feeling uncomfortable with the way she was treated by other, senior, male staff, adding she believed she was treated this way because she was a woman and also because she was young. The case settled before it went to hearing.
She said: “I went into this job with an enthusiastic commitment to help the company achieve its goals.
“I felt my professional contribution was ignored, and that I had been bullied, and I felt upset and humiliated at the way I was spoken to by senior management in front of other staff.
“The way my redundancy was handled severely affected my health and our family finances. However, I’ve moved on and am happy in my new workplace. I feel my skills are valued there and I’m now enjoying my work and my family life”.
Mary Kitson, senior legal officer of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, said all employers should be committed to diversity in the workplace.
Ms Rice said: “It should be led from the top and understood by all employees. A genuinely progressive organisation will carry out its legal responsibilities and provide equal opportunities.
“It will not stereotype and exclude women and will ensure that pregnant employees feel welcome and valued in the workplace.”
She said she was pleased Ms Rice is now in a job “where she feels valued and is able to give her best at work while balancing her family life. This should be possible for all women.”
Additional reporting by Press Association