Senior fashion executive sues for pregnancy discrimination after she alleges forced resignation

by Employment Law Advice Solicitors on March 12, 2013

  • SumoMe

A former senior executive at a major fashion label is suing her previous employer for discrimination and unfair dismissal after she resigned in 2011.

Ms Kate Torpey commenced employment with Robson Webster Holdings – which owns the fashion labels Jigsaw and Kew – in 1997 as a financial control assistant. She was promoted to the role of director of Jigsaw in 2003 and a year later was made managing director of Kew. Although a successful careerwoman, she was apparently perturbed by the owner of Jigsaw’s (Mr Paul Robinson) comments on maternity leave. Mr Robinson stated “proudly” to her that his wife had returned to wife within days of giving birth and this had put her on edge as she believed that he would look disapprovingly on her taking a longer time off work after giving birth. Ms Torpey did in fact go on maternity leave in late 2010 and returned to work in May 2011. She was reappointed as a director upon her return to work (as a part-time group strategic planning director with a £125,000 per annum salary) but subsequently announced her third pregnancy. A fellow director allegedly commented that this situation wasn’t “ideal” and Ms Torpey was signed off work sick with stress in November 2011. She resigned from her employment in December 2011 and consulted employment law solicitors. She subsequently complained to the Employment Tribunal that she had been constructively unfairly dismissed, that she had been subjected to direct sex discrimination, and that she had been subject to pregnancy and maternity discrimination. It is believed that attempts to reach a settlement via a compromise agreement prior to the filing of the claim foundered.

The Employment Tribunal heard at the hearing that Ms Torpey had been told by Mr Robinson in 2010 that he thought it would be “very difficult” to do her job with a child and that to attempt to do her job with two children would be “totally useless”. She further stated that she had received an email in November 2010 from Mr Robinson in which he wrote he had “lost confidence” in her and that her “main aim was to have children”. Mr Robinson – for his part – stated that he may have said that doing her job with children would be difficult, that he hadn’t stated that trying to do her job with two children would be “totally useless”, and that it was his opinion that the role that Ms Torpey was attempting to undertake required a full-time candidate. Nick Bartlett, HR representative for Robson Webster Holdings – told the Tribunal that the company was “very family friendly”.

Ms Torpey is claiming that her employer’s attitude towards her – and in particular Mr Robinson’s – constituted a “fundamental breach of contract”, with the breach being the breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence between the parties. She is also alleging that she was treated less favourably than comparable staff members because she was female and/or because she had children. This is a common allegation in constructive dismissal claims in the Employment Tribunal. The Tribunal is currently continuing and a decision is expected soon.

Employment Law Advice Solicitors are employment law solicitors based in central London

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