A beautician who was dismissed 11 days after announcing she was pregnant is in line for compensation after winning a discrimination case against her former Rushton employers.
Agata Plewa took luxury spa Homefield Grange to an employment tribunal after she was made redundant without warning less than two weeks after being congratulated by her boss.
The Manor Road retreat claimed they could not afford her or offer her secure hours - but an employment judge found she received less favourable treatment because of her pregnancy and her dismissal was unfair.
When approached for comment by the Northants Telegraph, Homefield Grange director Suzanne Peck insisted she would never let someone go for being pregnant and that the spa had made an 'inadvertent mistake' by not telling their HR team about Ms Plewa's situation.
An employment tribunal in Norwich heard Ms Plewa was employed at the spa - which has previously been visited by celebrities including Carol Vorderman - from February 7, 2017, to July 14, 2018.
She worked as an aesthetic beauty therapist which involved using a hydrafacial machine and a hair removal laser machine, both of which had recently been bought by the spa.
During the first half of 2018 there had been redundancies there but employees were not replaced, with Mrs Peck and her partner covering their work because they were facing financial difficulties.
The tribunal heard that at some stage prior to 2017/2018 the firm had embarked upon a major new project to build a new spa wellness centre facility. It experienced a number of problems and extensive delays, causing major financial pressures together with additional costs that had not been originally planned for.
The machines that were being used by Ms Plewa was not generating the income Mrs Peck had hoped for and at some point in May or June she decided to cut her losses on them. One was sold and no more bookings were taken for after July on the other. A tribunal heard this in effect put Ms Plewa's job in jeopardy as it appeared a major reason for employment was the treatments these machines provided.
On July 3 Ms Plewa told Mrs Peck she was pregnant and two days later a risk assessment was carried out, which made clear there were still a number of treatments she could undertake even though she was pregnant.
Then, on July 7, Mrs Peck sent Ms Plewa an email which an employment judge branded 'rather strange'.
It read: “Dearest Agata, firstly I would like to say I am so thrilled for you and your fiancé that you’re going to be parents. I know it’s something you have worked so hard at and both Hans [Looser, fellow director] and I are thrilled for you both. Further to our chat today I think that I need to clarify a few areas so you are aware of how things stand. Homefield has and continues to see a down turn in business since September 2017.
"In our 14 years of business we have not experienced this situation before. As a result of this we have had to let team members go namely our manager, skin specialist and our weekend duty manager. Hans and I have been covering many of the night sleeps to help the financials of the business and I am working every weekend to cover reception as we cannot afford to recruit. It has been a real struggle. It is not a situation that any business owner likes to face.
"You are a valued member of our team and as I mentioned today a brilliant therapist. However I cannot guarantee that this short-term lay off situation will now last, or whether it will get worse before it gets better. There is no guarantees on your hours and most of the team are still on short term layoffs. Overall I think it is time for you to decide what is best for you and your family. I will respect of course any decision you make."
A week later Ms Plewa was told she was being made redundant with one month's notice - even though the spa was recruiting at the time.
An email to the beautician from Mrs Peck said they were in a position where they could not afford to employ her.
It read: "You have been an absolute pleasure to work with and a true professional. The standard and delivery of your therapies is first class. I would not hesitate to recommend you highly for any future employer that may request a reference from me. On behalf of both Hans and I we sincerely wish you health, success and happiness in whatever you do in life."
But, in a recently published judgment, employment judge Robin Postle ruled that there was no suggestion that any other employees were to be made redundant, none of which pregnant, and that there was no pool for selection. He said it was difficult to see how making one part-time employee redundant would go anywhere in helping the firm's financial difficulties.
He said: "The tribunal therefore unanimously concludes that the only inference that can be drawn for the respondent’s decision to make the claimant redundant was her announcement that she was pregnant on July 3, that is clearly less favourable treatment because of her pregnancy.
"Equally the tribunal was satisfied that the decision to dismiss by reason of redundancy was automatically unfair for a reason connected to the claimant’s pregnancy."
After the hearing Homefield Grange Spa director Suzanne Peck said: “I have never, and would never, let someone go for being pregnant. In an industry led by women, for women, such an action or attitude would be madness. Mums have been at the centre of my business for 17 years.
“In 2018 the business was in severe financial difficulties due to the build delay of a new spa. The subsequent booking cancellations sadly resulted in staff redundancies.
“Homefield Grange made an inadvertent mistake in not informing our HR advisors about Agata’s situation at the time of the redundancies. I take full responsibility and wholeheartedly apologise.”
A remedy hearing to decide Ms Plewa's compensation amount will be held at a later date.