Part-time receptionist deliberately left out of pizza order by boss awarded £23k at tribunal

Judge rules single mother ‘suffered a disadvantage’ after months of victimisation and sudden requirement for her to work full-time hours

A part-time receptionist at a car dealership who was left out of a group lunch and whose role was made full time was subjected to victimisation, indirect discrimination on the grounds of sex, and less favourable treatment as a part-time worker and unfair dismissal, a judge has ruled.

The tribunal said that Miss Lewicka “suffered less favourable treatment than a comparable full-time worker” when she was intentionally left out of ‘pizza Friday’ by senior employees after she made a complaint against a manager, and was the only part-time employee selected for redundancy.

A further claim of sexual harassment failed as it was out of time, and a claim of discrimination relating to a disability failed.

Lewicka was employed as a telephone receptionist at the Hartwell Ford dealership in Watford from 6 May 2014 and remained there until it closed for a rebuild in November 2016. She was transferred to the Hemel Hempstead site during the closure at Watford to work on the service reception desk, and then resumed working at the Watford site when it reopened in April 2018 as a part-time service adviser until she was made redundant on 2 January 2019.

On 9 March 2018, while working at the Hemel Hempstead dealership, Lewicka submitted a grievance relating to pay, working hours and the behaviour of her manager, Mark Benson, in which she claimed to suffer sex discrimination over a period of approximately six months.

The tribunal said that while it could not investigate these claims as they were out of time, an internal grievance process saw Benson issued with a final written warning, having found he committed gross misconduct.

Lewicka told the tribunal that the Watford site managers excluded her from lunch after she raised the grievance. She said the site managers in Hemel Hempstead included her, despite her working day finishing at 1pm, but when she moved to Watford “other employees were asked” but she was not.

A Hartwell manager, Mr Bradley, told the tribunal that the ‘pizza Friday’ lunches were “informal and ad hoc” and had no specific date. He also suggested that Lewicka was not included as all colleagues took lunch between 1pm and 2pm.

But the tribunal found that the nickname ‘pizza Friday’ suggested “regularity” and that her exclusion was “victimisation that continued around the time of her dismissal”.

The tribunal also said in March and April 2018 two Hartwell employees, Karen Futcher and Bridget Watson, would not speak to Lewicka “as a result of the protected disclosure” she made against Benson.

Additionally, the tribunal found that Watson put the phone down on Lewicka “on many occasions”, which amounted to victimisation.

Around July 2018, Hartwell Ford Watford decided that Lewicka’s role of service adviser should be carried out full time, but it did not take into account her personal circumstances as a single mother with caring responsibilities.

According to evidence submitted to the tribunal by Lewicka, on 14 July 2018 she was told by an unnamed Hartwell employee that “things would get awkward” if she didn’t accept a full-time position, and by November 2018 she was placed at risk of redundancy. However, the tribunal found that she was not offered alternative work between November 2018 and her dismissal on 2 January 2019.

The tribunal found that Bradley “did not make an open-minded assessment of whether the role of service adviser could be carried out on any basis other than full time”. Lewicka was therefore the only part-time employee pooled and selected for redundancy, which made her treatment “less favourable than a comparable full-time worker”.

Judge Chapman found the selection process for her redundancy was unfair as she was the only part-time employee placed in the redundancy pool and it did not give “considerations to alternatives” to redundancy.

It also criticised Hartwell’s management of having a “fixed mindset” that would not accommodate part-time service advisers, a decision that Chapman described as “discriminatory”.

Andrew Willis, head of legal at Croner, said the case sends a clear message to employers about the treatment of employees after raising a grievance. “As seen here, employees should never be mistreated as a result of raising any issue in the company,” said Willis. “Not only can doing so result in a claim, it can also lead to ongoing mistrust of management, poor productivity and high levels of staff turnover.

Hartwell has been contacted for comment. Lewicka could not be reached.