Patricia Nurse

patricia

Patricia is a freelance journalist in Lincoln and a university lecturer. She earns her keep by writing news and features, and rants about the nanny state and the smoking ban.


It’s not easy for an amateur to battle against the legal system and professional lawyers, but single mum and former pizza chef Jennifer Sammut faced that adversary for what she believes was the right thing to do.

The 28-year-old, with an 18-month-old daughter, is on a low income and couldn’t afford professional legal representation when she decided to take her former employers Pizza Express to a tribunal claiming pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

She faced her opponents in senior management, and their qualified and articulate advocate, with courage and gave as good as she got – if a little wayward and irrelevant at times because of her inexperience.

She delivered her cross examination with intelligence, passion and gritty determination to try and prove her case and said after the hearing that she felt it was the right thing to do.

Her former employers denied all the allegations.

She brought her claim in July 2012 before the introduction of fees for tribunal hearings came in April 2013. She would not be able to afford the payment today.

If forced to pay she would have had to abandon her case and she would have felt that justice was not heard.

Whether justice is done remains to be seen until the Tribunal panel in Lincoln decides the outcome in May based on all the evidence they have read and heard.

Government made the changes to Tribunals in a bid to help small businesses which claimed too often cases with no merit were brought before Tribunal hearings.

This led to high costs in responding to action brought against them — or expensive settlements to avoid the costs of legal action that might be brought against them.

Unions say people who feel badly treated at work should have an easy and affordable means of redress and they are against the changes.

Read the court reports from day oneday twoday three, and our roundup

A company accused of discriminating against a pregnant employee has denied allegations that managers demoted her, replaced her and left her no alternative but to resign.

An employment tribunal held at Lincoln Magistrates Court heard that senior staff at the city’s Pizza Express restaurant had suggested that Jennifer Sammut (28) be moved from her job in the kitchen to front of house so that she did not work in extreme hot or cold temperatures or carry heavy boxes in her condition. It was not meant as a demotion and there was no intention to change her pay scale.

Manager Damian Maloney said: “Rather than being seen as a problem, pregnant staff returning to work are seen as an asset – especially if they can work very busy times like weekends.”

Operations manager Carl Stokes said there were hours waiting for Miss Sammut on her return from maternity leave. He said a replacement chef brought in to cover her period of absence was given a permanent contract due to other staff leaving while she was away.

Head chef Lakshama Fennell-Ross denied he had said morning sickness was not an excuse when on one occasion Miss Sammut was accused of being late. He denied he reprimanded her her for not working quick enough or hard enough.

“We had a discussion about how a very busy shift had gone afterwards but I did not reprimand her,” he said.

On the occasion when he had discussed with her manager Shelly Whitworth about her changing roles, Mr Fennell-Ross said Miss Sammut wanted to keep the hours she had and did not want to work as a waitress.

“She was suffering from exhaustion and she was emotional as well which is why she could have been upset at that meeting,” he said.

He denied that he was suggesting that she had burst into tears because she was a hormonal pregnant woman.

The three-day hearing has now ended.

Read the court reports from day oneday two and day three

The tribunal panel will meet again in May to decide the outcome of the case and notify the parties by post with full reasons given for the decision they make.

If Miss Sammut wins her case a remedial hearing will be held to decide on compensation, if appropriate, on a date to be fixed.

A rota was created for a male employee who asked for reduced hours when he was ill, day three of the employment tribunal looking into pregnancy discrimination allegations at Pizza Express in Lincoln has heard.

Jennifer Sammut (28), the claimnat, said she was told she could not work day shifts over two or three days because it would be unfair to other staff.

Read the court reports from day one and day two

However, the tribunal heard that the male employee suffering stress was given day and short shifts, and these were also made available to Miss Sammut towards the end of her pregnancy, when she became exhausted.

Pizza Express manager Shelley Whitworth says these shifts then disappeared from the rota in May after the male employee left and Miss Sammut went on maternity leave.

Regional manager Steven Brighty chaired an appeal meeting after Miss Sammut’s application for flexible working was turned down. He was accused of bias when he upheld the original decision that flexible working for Miss Sammut would be unfair on other staff.

He said: “I was completely independent and had no preconceived idea of the issues that were brought up and discussed in that meeting.” He said he trusted Mrs Whitworth’s judgement and professionalism based on how she managed the business and treated her staff.

The hearing continues. This story will be updated later in the day.

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