Employer

Morrisons court: Wetherby’s mother wins £60,000 in legal battle against former employer over unfair dismissal and gender discrimination

The Bradford-based supermarket giants have been ordered to pay mother-of-two Donna Patterson £60,442.25 after she changed roles while on maternity leave, then was ‘gassed’ and forced to work at full-time on his return despite being on a part-time contract.

Ms Patterson’s mental health deteriorated and after taking leave due to stress, she began a grievance procedure with the company. However, when her concerns were overruled, she left and sued.

Ms Patterson represented herself at the ‘grueling’ five-day court in Leeds after being told her chances of success were slim and because of the high costs demanded by law firms.

Donna Patterson with her two sons

During court, it was heard that Morrisons had planned to demote her when she was pregnant, which made the judge “ballistic”.

Describing her reaction when the unanimous verdict was announced last Friday (October 21), she said: “I just sat there and tears rolled down my face. Just by simple relief that it was worth it – it was worth all the stress, all the effort and worth everyone saying “why not just go away and move on”.

Morrisons was approached for comment but did not respond.

Ms Patterson started working at Morrisons in 2008 before leaving, then returning in 2018 to a buying role for online sales.

Ms Patterson worked as a buyer at Morrisons

She was asked to change her role to buying sweets, but after telling the company she was pregnant with her second baby, she said “the role was taken away from me”.

She was working in the online role when she went on maternity leave in August 2020 ahead of the birth of her second child, who is now two years old.

She said that shortly after she was born, she received a call from HR telling her that there had been “a restructuring of the online team”, but that there would be a job in the company to his return.

Ms Patterson said: ‘My baby was around two months old and it was during the pandemic so my head probably wasn’t in the right place to have a discussion like this.

Donna Patterson worked for Morrisons at their head office in Bradford

“In court, that’s what frustrated the judge the most – the lack of a duty of care.”

After deciding to return to work in August 2021, she contacted HR and her manager several times to discuss her return and ask about her new job, but received no response.

She eventually got an email for someone from HR, who told her the only job available for her was in the basic grocery store.

Ms Patterson has tried to appeal to stay in online shopping because ‘people change jobs all the time’ and because shopping in supermarkets is particularly difficult when working part-time, but these demands were rejected.

Donna Patterson will receive over £60,000 from Morrisons for gender discrimination and unfair dismissal

Ms Patterson said: ‘There was no discussion to be had about it.

Morrisons was also reluctant to let her work from home during the role or work half days to pick up her children.

When she returned to work in August, Ms Patterson said she had no agreed work schedule and when she contacted her manager, he said he expected her to work full time.

Although they later vowed to find him a more suitable role, Morrisons instead asked him to stay at work as they “decided it could be done during my part-time hours”.

She said she had started to “drown in work” and that “people would blame me for not meeting deadlines”.

Ms Patterson said: ‘I felt absolutely gassed. It was driving me crazy.

“I was showing them why it wasn’t possible and they just sat there and said ‘no, it’s okay, you’re good at your job and you just have to prioritize’.”

She added: “I said I could either work until I broke to do this part-time job or work the hours part-time and destroy the reputation I’ve built in 15 years.”

In December, Ms Patterson’s doctor signed her off on work-related stress and, while she was away, her manager called with a work-related question. She was also contacted to tell her that her company’s sick pay was ending.

Before heading home, Ms Patterson contacted Morrisons to ask what was going to be done to help her return to work and demanded training and an apology from ‘those who failed me’, but her suggestions were dismissed.

In March this year, Ms Patterson resigned following a “total breach of trust” and sought to take legal action.

His home insurance providers “didn’t believe I had a successful claim on my hands.” Other lawyers wanted tens of thousands of pounds, so she decided to take it on, which she admitted was “petrifying”.

During the “gruesome” five-day trial, which began on October 17, she cross-examined eight of her former colleagues.

After he left, she submitted a data subject access request and came across a letter saying there were plans to demote her when she was pregnant.

Ms Patterson said: ‘Judge went ballistic when this came out.

“To consider demoting a pregnant woman is completely unacceptable.”

Meeting minutes she received showed her manager ‘questioned my priorities’ after becoming a mother of two and a human resources representative said the online team restructuring when Ms Patterson was pregnant ‘wasn’t right’.

Another filing showed that Morrisons expected her to be reachable even on non-working days.

On Friday (October 21), the judge announced that the panel had ruled unanimously in her favor.

Ms Patterson said: ‘It was a complete relief.

“I was aware that what happened was morally wrong but may not have breached the correct legal tests.

‘Luckily I had a really great judge and panel and from the work I had done it was clear that employment law had been violated.’