Tribunal finds Association of Chartered Certified Accountants employee was discriminated against

Association Chartered Certified AccountantsA social media marketer who was told she “had a baby at the wrong time” and was not transferred into a role that matched her responsibilities in a restructuring exercise has won a maternity discrimination claim at an employment tribunal.

Ms Yongo, had been working at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) since 2019. Her main role was marketing communications manager, social media, but she also carried out additional duties usually performed by the head of marketing services, for which she received a paid allowance.

Yongo was on maternity leave in March 2022 when she was informed about an organisational restructure.

During a meeting with the director of marketing Mr Jervis, who has since left the organisation, she was informed that her substantive role in social media was safe, but the head of marketing services role no longer existed.

A new, more senior, ‘social lead’ role was on the proposed new organisational structure. She raised concerns about this role because she felt it would be similar to her position.

As part of this conversation, Jervis allegedly commented: “You had a baby at the wrong time”.

During a later grievance investigation, Jervis said he did not believe that he had made the comment, but if he had it “would have been as part of a human conversation rather than a professional one, it would’ve been part of a joke”. However, the employment tribunal found that his lack of categoric denial suggested that he had commented on her pregnancy.

The claimant asked Jervis for the job description for the social lead role, but she heard nothing further from him. She also asked ACCA’s head of digital delivery for the description, but this was again not shared with her.

Yongo finally received confirmation of the social lead’s roles and responsibilities on 1 July 2022 after contacting ACCA’s employee relations team. The role had already been filled by another candidate.

In May 2022 she raised concerns with the employee relations team about how the social lead role effectively matched her substantive role, but she was informed that her current role remained in the organisational structure and was unchanged. Yongo’s role was mapped across to the role of ‘marketing manager, social’.

However, the tribunal found that her job before the restructure was more akin to the new social lead role, which was on a higher grade under the new structure. The tribunal also found that the claimant’s new job description had significant elements removed from her original job description, including line management and strategic duties.

Prior to going on maternity leave, she had produced a social media strategy, but the job description suggested this was no longer part of her responsibilities.

While still on maternity leave in October 2022, Yongo told her line manager, Mr Miller, that she was considering condensed working hours, but she was allegedly told that she would have to return to work for three months before she could request a new working arrangement.

At this point, she raised a formal grievance about maternity discrimination, including not being mapped to the social lead role and her responsibilities being transferred to the social lead role, Jervis’ comments about having a baby at the wrong time, and Miller’s conversation about flexible working. Her grievance was dismissed by ACCA in December 2022.

She did not submit her flexible working application until she returned to work in January 2023. She also informed her line manager that she had submitted an employment tribunal claim about the issues mentioned in her grievance.

She claimed that after this she was left off some emails, meeting invites and meeting agendas she ought to have received, and had not been given access to passwords or a handover upon her return to work.

Yongo was signed off sick with stress from 24 January to 20 April 2023. In March she submitted another grievance about alleged bullying and victimisation, but this complaint was not upheld.

The tribunal judge found that the claimant’s maternity leave had a significant influence on her employer’s actions. Although Jervis’ comment alone would have been unlikely to put the claimant at a disadvantage, the resulting chain of events and Jervis’ involvement in the changes to Yongo’s role and the creation of the new social lead position meant that the comment was discriminatory.

Judge Nasreen Akhtar said: “[The] fact the comment was made at a time when the restructure and the claimant’s role were being discussed evidences the nexus in Jervis’ mind between the claimant’s maternity leave and her role within the restructure. We find all of Jervis’ resultant actions in respect of the claimant’s role and the social lead role were tainted by his view that the claimant ‘had a baby at the wrong time’.

“We find the claimant’s substantive role duties were reduced significantly almost to the same level as a marketing executive. This was most notable in terms of the reduction in the knowledge and expertise required for the claimant’s role.”

The London Central employment tribunal’s judgment in Yongo v Association of Chartered Certified Accountants notes that to some extent the restructure affected everyone not just the claimant, but there was no evidence that others were affected in the same way.

It added that appointing another person as social media lead had been unfavourable treatment relating to Yongo’s maternity leave.

The tribunal dismissed Yongo’s discrimination claim about the flexible working request, and victimisation claims concerning missing her off meeting requests and emails and not providing passwords and meeting agendas.

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Compensation will be decided at a later hearing.

A spokesperson for ACCA said: ‘We are disappointed with the outcome of the employment tribunal, but we respect its decision. We pride ourselves on being a good employer with a strong focus on inclusion.’