Banker whose job was ‘eroded’ while on maternity leave wins tribunal

Judge also finds employer unfairly panned woman for ‘divisive’ attitude

A senior banker has won claims for sex discrimination, maternity discrimination and harassment at London Central Employment Tribunal, after she complained her job had been “marginalised” after she gave birth.

Jagruti Rajput joined Commerzbank’s London markets compliance department in November 2012 as a senior compliance advisor. She became deputy to the head of market compliance in May 2014, following a largely positive appraisal in December 2013. 

In October 2014, a talent rating form was completed for the banker. This identified her as a potential successor for the current head of market compliance. It noted she may be ready to take on the role in two years but required more exposure to project management. 

In June 2015, the head of market compliance role was advertised. Rajput was interviewed for the role in July 2015 but it was decided an external candidate might be better suited for the job, as the team had become “toxic” by this point. Regardless, Rajput had a second interview for the position in October 2015. 

In November 2015, Rajput announced she was pregnant. The preferred external candidate was offered the head of markets compliance role in December 2015.

In March 2016, Rajput’s waters broke while at work and her baby was born the next day. While Rajput was on leave, Julia Burch, who was effectively junior to Rajput, was designated ‘cover person’. Although another worker was supposed to be Rajput’s maternity cover, the tribunal judgment determined that, in reality, Burch took on much of Rajput’s duties. 

In late May 2016, Rajput contacted her employer about attending a quarterly meeting. However, she was “strongly discouraged” from attending. In June 2016, Rajput began discussing her return to work. She met with the team in August and, while she expected there to be a formal handover, none took place.

The senior banker returned to work in September 2016. This same month, a talent rating was completed for her, again identifying her as a potential successor for head of market compliance but now pegging her time for readiness at two to three years. 

The tribunal judgment found that, in November 2016, Rajput complained her position had been “eroded” since she returned from maternity leave and, in February 2017, she complained to the head of market compliance that she was “feeling marginalised”. In particular, her complaints highlighted that her former position as deputy no longer seemed to be reflected in the organisational chart and Burch no longer seemed to be her direct report. 

Ruling that Rajput – who is still employed by the German-headquartered lender, had been discriminated against – the tribunal found there had been “no real intention” of Burch forgoing her duties at the end of the maternity leave.

In addition, the tribunal determined Rajput had not been fairly considered for promotion in 2015, finding that her employer had deemed her and another female candidate’s attitudes to be “divisive… whereas we do not consider [the person voicing this opinion] would have criticised a man in similar circumstances”. 

Also, in finding the actions to be maternity discrimination, the tribunal concluded the employer discouraged Rajput from attending the quarterly meeting “because of assumptions made about what a woman should do while on maternity leave”.

CIPD HR-inform head of legal Andrew Willis said: “Employers need to take steps to ensure gender-related assumptions are not being taken into account when management decisions are made, including those on promotion and recruitment. 

“To be able to evidence that non-discriminatory decisions were reached, the case reminds employers to keep written records of these decisions and what factors were taken into account, even if the decision is an internal one.”

A Commerzbank spokesperson said it would “seek to appeal the court ruling”.