The following is a sample witness statement based on the case described in Precedent 1.
- I started work for Heron Hotels Ltd in March 2005 in the Flamingo Hotel in Paddington. The Group has five hotels in London.
- The Flamingo Hotel has 35 double and 8 single rooms. The hotel director was Keith Venables. I started as Assistant Manager. In August 2013, I was promoted to hotel manager. The post was not advertised. Mr Venables just made the decision that I was suitable.
- Until my pregnancy, I got on well with Mr Venables and he always gave me good feed-back about my performance. Sometimes he would make suggestions to me about the ways things could be done, but this was never a matter of criticism. I never had any disciplinary warnings, verbal or written, throughout my employment.
- On 1st October 2013, I told the hotel director, Keith Venables, that I was pregnant. Mr Venables congratulated me. Then he added, “You make me think about things”. I did not know what he meant, but it worried me. He wasn’t smiling when he said it and I had the feeling that he was thinking about my job.
- On 4th October 2013, Mr Venables telephoned me and said that business was down and my performance was unsatisfactory. He said he had warned me about this before. Then he said, “You don’t know how your pregnancy will go and how you will cope with the workload. You won’t be able to get up early and after eight months, you’ll sleep more”. I was so shocked that I burst into tears and I wasn’t able to continue the conversation.
- Mr Venables had never previously said my performance was unsatisfactory. I thought I was doing well. It was not my fault that business was down. That was because of the recession. But I had put on various promotions, which had had some success, and Mr Venables had been pleased. For example (give details).
- I was very upset by Mr Venables’ reaction to my pregnancy. I had intended to work up to a few weeks before I had the baby. I was only going to take 6 months’ maternity leave, as I wanted to continue working there afterwards.
- I did not see Mr Venables very much after this conversation. He tended to keep out of my way and if he did speak to me, he kept very much to immediate work issues. Although I was very upset and shaken, I continued to work hard and do my best.
The Group Management meetings
- As hotel manager, I used to be invited to attend the Group management meetings every month. The meetings are attended by the manager and the director of each hotel in the group as well as the general manager of the whole Group and Group secretary. The meetings happen around the middle of each month but the date can vary. We get notified by e-mail of the exact date seven – ten days in advance
- I was invited to every Group management meeting from the month after my promotion to hotel manager until my pregnancy. I attended all the meetings except when I was on holiday. But after I told Mr Venables of my pregnancy, I was not invited to any more meetings. I only found out afterwards that meetings were held on 6th October 2013 and 13th October 2013.
- It was important to attend the meetings because it was an opportunity to exchange ideas with other managers and compare notes about common problems. For example, every hotel was struggling with a fall in occupancy resulting from the recession. People had different ideas about initiatives which might help. It was also important to be at the meetings to get known by the Group general manager and to hear about various plans for the future. It is not possible to efficiently run the hotel without attending those meetings.
- I believe I was excluded from the Group management meetings from October onwards because of my pregnancy and because Mr Venables did not think I had any future at the hotel now I was pregnant.
- On 14th October 2013, Mr Venables sent me an e-mail telling me to attend a disciplinary hearing on 18th October 2013 in respect of my poor performance (see trial bundle, page 00). It didn’t say what was wrong with my performance. I emailed back and I tried to telephone to find out more details but I got no reply.
- I went to the disciplinary hearing at 2 p.m. on 18th October 2013. Mr Venables was there with a junior person from human resources. I was asked whether I wanted to bring a colleague in to accompany me. I said no. I hadn’t known I could bring anyone so it was too late by then to arrange for someone to accompany me.
- Mr Venables then produced statistics showing that hotel occupancy had gone down dramatically in the previous 18 months. I said this was not my fault. It was a result of the global recession. Mr Venables would not listen to me. He said that he could not afford to carry the business and I was obviously too inexperienced. He said unfortunately he would have to replace me. He told me I was dismissed with immediate effect and that a manager from another hotel was coming over to cover. He didn’t say who. He said he would write to me and send me notice pay. The whole meeting took about ten minutes.
- The next day I got a letter confirming that I was dismissed and enclosing a cheque for four weeks’ notice pay. I wrote a letter appealing to the Group hotel director. (The letters are at pages 00 – 00 of the trial bundle.) He had a meeting with me on 20th October 2013 to discuss my appeal. I tried to reassure him that my pregnancy would make no difference to my job performance. He said it was nothing to do with my pregnancy. On 22nd October 2013, I received a letter rejecting my appeal.
- I believe that I was dismissed because I was pregnant. Mr Venables’ whole attitude changed towards me and my future after I told him I had become pregnant.
Since my dismissal – the effect on me and looking for work
- I was very upset by what happened and it completely shook my confidence. Until I became pregnant, I thought I was doing well at work and making a good career. Now Mr Venables has made me feel that I was completely useless from the beginning and not capable of managing a hotel.
- I couldn’t stop crying for weeks after my dismissal. I went to see my GP because I couldn’t sleep at night. My GP couldn’t give me any medication because of my pregnancy.
- I have tried to look for work, but I have found it difficult because of the damage to my confidence and because of my pregnancy. I registered with a specialist catering agency as well as the job centre. I go to the library and look at the advertisements in all the catering magazines every week. I have looked at receptionist as well as management jobs. (Give details of applications submitted, interviews attended and outcomes, and refer to relevant pages in the trial bundle.)
- I am due to have my baby in March 2014. I plan to start looking for work again in October 2014 once my baby is six months old and it is therefore easier for the baby to be left with someone else. The agency has warned me it will be much harder to find a new job with a new baby. Also, it is going to be exhausting to go out looking for a new job the the first few months when the baby is born.
- I tried to claim statutory maternity pay but I was told I was not entitled to any because I had left my job too early. This was also very stressful.
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