The boss of a failed Wigan bar sacked an employee for being pregnant, a employment judge has ruled.
A tribunal heard how Mark Douglas, of Douglas Leisure North West Ltd, unfairly dismissed an assistant manager just two weeks after she revealed her pregnancy.
Mr Douglas – who owned The Wiend Bar in Wigan town centre – faced an employment judge back in May to answer claims of unlawful discrimination after he fired Ms K Barnes when she became pregnant.
Dean Clayton, another director of the company, was cleared of subjecting Ms Barnes to a “detriment” after he jokingly texted her saying “gonna push you down the stairs” after she told him about her pregnancy.
The tribunal heard how bosses at The Wiend bar, including Mr Douglas and Mr Clayton, employed Ms Barnes in November 2015 as assistant manager.
The bar, which was a new venture for Douglas Leisure, was subject to a costly refurbishment paid for by Mr Douglas (referred to as the third respondent in the tribunal documents).
A decision was taken to hire Ms Barnes because she had previously worked with Mr Clayton (the second respondent) at another bar.
Shortly after opening, the bar struck financial difficulties, generating around £6,000 a week compared to projections of between £9,000 and £11,000.
In March 2017, Mr Douglas and Mr Clayton discussed making the claimant redundant to help save costs, but decided not to as Mr Clayton’s wedding was coming up and they would need her to cover for him while he was on honeymoon.
Just two months later, the bosses hired two new staff on a part-time basis.
Shortly after this, in June 2017, Ms Barnes discovered she was pregnant.
Employment Judge Batten wrote: “The claimant messaged the second respondent with a picture of a positive pregnancy test.
“She accompanied the picture with a joke about what she would do next in light of the news of her pregnancy. The second respondent replied, in a joking manner, ‘laughing’ and then he messaged the claimant with ‘gonna push you downstairs’.”
Mr Clayton was cleared of any detriment against Ms Barnes by sending the text.
The document produced following the tribunal read: “The tribunal concluded that comments between the claimant and the second respondent were very much made in the context of a joke, albeit a joke that the tribunal found difficult to comprehend.”
On June 25 2017, Mr Douglas and Mr Clayton met for a Sunday lunch where Mr Douglas was told about Ms Barnes’ pregnancy.
Shortly after this Mr Douglas was approached by a neighbouring business’s owner who asked if The Wiend Bar was closing down because he had been in recently and there was “very little” stock on show.
Mr Douglas visited the bar and discovered there was very little stock on the premises.
Mr Clayton blamed the claimant for oversleeping and missing a delivery.
Less than a week later, while Ms Barnes was on a planned holiday, she received a call from Mr Douglas who told her that he “could not afford” to pay her anymore.
When she told him she would he seek legal advice, he said he hoped she would not go down that route.
Mr B Henry, representing the claimant, argued that there was “haste” in the decision made to dismiss her.
Employment judge Batten said: “No procedures were followed: no warning, no consultation, no consideration of pooling or selection procedures, nor consideration of any suitable alternative employment. The third respondent was intent on dismissing the claimant as soon as possible.
“She was on a pre-booked holiday at the beginning of July 2017 but, nevertheless, the third respondent pursued her by telephone as if desperate to communicate his decision to her.”
Mr Douglas was criticised for saying that Ms Barnes’ failure to arrive at the bar for a delivery was the contributing factor for her dismissal.
The tribunal rejected the idea that she had been dismissed for this reason, and said that the evidence surrounding this apparent misconduct was “confused and unreliable”.
Douglas Leisure North West Ltd went into voluntary liquidation in October 2017.
Employment judge Batten wrote: “The tribunal concluded that the claimant was dismissed because of her pregnancy.
“The tribunal considered that the claimant would not have been dismissed at the beginning of July 2017, if she was not pregnant and that the timing of her dismissal, coming so soon after her announcement that she was pregnant, was significant.
“There was not a redundancy situation at that particular time as opposed to any other time.”
A remedy hearing will take place at a later date to establish how Ms Barnes will be recompensed for the unlawful discrimination against her.
Mr Clayton, who was cleared of any wrongdoing, will not be required to attend this hearing.