Pregnant S&G assistant fired for offensive Facebook posts

Slater & Gordon: Dismissal was for good reason

Slater & Gordon (S&G) dismissed a legal assistant over offensive Facebook posts on Muslims and Jimmy Savile, and not because she was pregnant, an employment tribunal has found.

Judge Brian Doyle in Manchester ruled that any employee would have been dismissed for such posts – that Ms L Livesey had just announced her pregnancy was purely a coincidence.

This was particularly because the firm had plenty of Muslim staff and clients, and acted for victims of the disgraced entertainer.

As it was, there were significant concerns about Ms Livesey’s performance and the only reason she had not been dismissed at the end of her three-month probationary period in June 2020 was her manager’s recognition that it had been difficult starting work just a fortnight before the country went into lockdown.

The tribunal heard that Ms Livesey was not completing the work she was given and her manager, Victoria Higgins, a senior associate and team leader in S&G’s specialist injury department in Manchester, “started to wonder what exactly the claimant was doing all day as she was not given much work to do”.

It described Ms Higgins as an “impressive” witness, whose account was “honest, detailed and consistent”, and supported by the documentary evidence.

In early June 2020, the tribunal recorded, “the need to constantly chase even simple tasks to be completed was adding to Ms Higgins’s already very busy workload and the pressures she was under.

“All these factors combined were ringing alarm bells for her. By this point she had little to no trust in the claimant”.

Nonetheless, Ms Higgins decided to extend the probationary period by two months – to give her a “fair chance” – and several hours later Ms Livesey informed her that she was 8.5 weeks pregnant.

Before that, earlier in the day, when Ms Livesey said she had to go into hospital for tests, Ms Higgins was “suspicious” given how few hospital appointments were being made at that time.

After work that day, Ms Higgins was on Facebook and scrolling through her news feed when Ms Livesey’s profile came up as ‘Someone you may know’.

She looked at Ms Livesey’s profile “out of curiosity” and to see if there was any mention of being in hospital – there were no privacy settings on the account preventing any user from seeing the posts.

There was not but, the tribunal said, “she could not believe what she had seen”.

It explained: “She was appalled at the nature of the posts, which in her assessment expressed racist views, joked about Jimmy Savile’s crimes against children, and joked about taking class A drugs…

“She was genuinely shocked and in complete disbelief that someone she was working so closely with would hold and share these views.”

Advised by HR the following day to take screen shots, “she scrolled a little further back and this is when she saw a post from the claimant joking about throwing boiling water over Muslim children as part of a water fight”.

The water fight and Jimmy Saville posts caused Ms Higgins the most concern, the tribunal said: “She had a number of Muslim clients and one in particular whom she knew used Facebook a lot and it would have been her ‘worst nightmare’ if they had come across the claimant’s profile. The thought of it made her ‘feel physically sick’.

“The respondent firm also has a number of Muslim employees in the department/firm and Ms Higgins has a Chinese colleague working in her team. Racism and discrimination of any kind sickens her.”

Ms Higgins was also aware that S&G represented a number of the victims of Jimmy Savile’s crimes.

Judge Doyle said: “These victims had to have trust and faith in their legal advisers to be able to open up and disclose details of some of the worst crimes imaginable and that trust would have been destroyed in an instant had they seen an employee of the respondent posting jokes online about the abuse they suffered.”

Called to a further meeting, Ms Livesey “did not give any reasonable explanation as to any of the posts” and simply pointed out that she was not employed by S&G at the time – the most recent was from three months before she started.

The tribunal went on: “The posts suggested she held views which she was openly sharing in public, that were not, in Ms Higgins’s opinion, in line with the respondent’s values, the diversity of their clients and employees, and which had no place in the legal profession.

“It made no difference that the claimant offered to delete the posts.”

Ms Higgins considered that, despite the pregnancy, dismissal was the only option, a decision upheld by the firm’s operations manager on appeal, at which Ms Livesey had claimed that the posts were made by her sister.

The operations manager noted that it still looked to the reader like they came from Ms Livesey, while Ms Higgins told the tribunal she found this explanation implausible.

The tribunal rejected the suggestion that Ms Higgins went to Facebook to find reasons to dismiss Ms Livesey.

Dismissing her claims for pregnancy discrimination and unfair dismissal by reason of pregnancy, Judge Doyle said: “Ms Higgins has provided a wholly credible and acceptable account of why the claimant was dismissed… Her pregnancy was irrelevant to her dismissal.

“It was present in the background, but only as a coincidence of timing. But mere coincidence of time does not make good the claimant’s case.”

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