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Mum sues firm for forgetting to invite her to Christmas party

A new mother has won up to £9,000 after she was not invited to her work Christmas party while she was on maternity leave.

A tribunal has ruled that Catriona Howie was overlooked by her bosses when they forgot to tell her about a last-minute event for staff while she was off caring for her newborn.

The panel ruled Mrs Howie is entitled to compensation due to ‘injury to her feelings’, after saying she felt that a conscious effort had been made to make her feel unwelcome in the business.

However, she lost another claim that a colleague had discriminated against her by mocking her for naming her daughter Presley, after star Elvis Presley.

Mrs Howie also told the tribunal that while trying to arrange her return to work at the end of her maternity leave, she was told that due to the declining fortunes of the business her role as general manager was no longer required.

Although the company said it would find her another role, on the day she returned to work in July 2019, she was told by her boss she was being made redundant.

The tribunal was told that Mrs Howie worked for luxury kitchen and design firm Holloways Of Ludlow for six years, starting in 2013.

After going on maternity leave in July 2017, Mrs Howie and the company agreed she would return to work the following summer.

In December of that year, the financially-strapped firm decided not to hold a traditional Christmas party but organised a trip to the pub instead, putting £200 behind the bar, it was heard.

The tribunal was told: ‘Most of the London-based staff attended. No-one invited (Mrs Howie). We accept that it was a short notice and informal event and there were no formal invitations.

‘Staff were informed by word of mouth or text message.’

Director Sarah Nelson told the hearing’it did not occur to her’ to invite Mrs Howie, adding: ‘It was not a proper party and nor was it a normal year.’

However, she accepted that the new mother would have been invited if she had been at work.

The following February, Mrs Howie was left ‘deeply upset’ after receiving an email from the company’s finance controller, Amar Shukla.

He messaged her saying: ‘When I…realised that you had named your daughter “Presley” I thought that you are in serious need of therapy!

‘I cannot understand how anyone can be fixated on someone that was dead before they were even born but I guess that is the power and allure of “the King”! Anyway I am sure that little Presley is a total bundle of joy and one that will soon be mobile.’

In relation to the email, the panel dismissed her claim of discrimination and said it was ‘simply a failed attempt at humour in the context of an otherwise entirely friendly exchange.’

The panel said: ‘It was obviously a poorly-judged email, and we can see why (Mrs Howie) would be offended by it, but we find there is nothing to suggest he was motivated by (her) pregnancy or maternity leave.’

Finding the company guilty of maternity discrimination, Judge Corinna Ferguson said: ‘We have accepted that (the firm) did not hold a Christmas party in 2018 in the way that it normally would, but it is not in dispute that there were informal drinks in late December, subsidised by the (company), in lieu of a Christmas party.

‘We accept there was no deliberate decision to exclude (Mrs Howie). However, the reason she was not invited was that no-one thought about her.

‘That was because she was on maternity leave. Had she been at work around this time, she would certainly have been invited. She was overlooked because she was on maternity leave.’

The panel ruled that Holloways had also discriminated against her by withholding information about the financial position of the company and her likely redundancy.

Finding she had also been unfairly dismissed, the tribunal said that there was a ‘total failure’ by the company to warn her that she might lose her job.

Judge Ferguson said that the panel would consider compensation of between £900 to £8,800 a ‘likely’ award for ‘injury to feelings’ in addition to the £1,027 the firm was ordered to pay for unpaid wages and holiday pay.

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