The equality watchdog is backing a social worker in a discrimination claim against her former employer related to her experience of menopause symptoms.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is funding Maria Rooney’s legal representation for her claim that Leicester City Council discriminated against, harassed and victimised her on grounds of sex and disability.
The employment tribunal started on Monday (2 October) at Leicester Tribunal Hearing Centre.
‘Forced to resign’
Rooney claims she was forced to resign from her post as a children’s social worker in 2018 because of unfavourable treatment for menopausal symptoms, which had resulted in her taking extended sickness leave from her job in December 2017.
She said this treatment included receiving a formal written warning due to her absences.
In 2019, a tribunal dismissed her claims of harassment and victimisation and said her sex discrimination claim had no reasonable prospect of success. The tribunal judge also struck out her claim of disability discrimination on the grounds that her menopausal symptoms did not amount to a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010.
The act defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
However, in 2021, an employment appeal tribunal (EAT) ruled that the original tribunal had mistakenly struck out her sex and disability discrimination claims “without adequately analysing them” and gave “insufficient reasons” for its decision to do so.
The EAT ordered that Rooney’s case be reheard by a fresh employment tribunal.
Menopausal symptoms can be disability
Following a preliminary hearing in February 2022, a tribunal ruled that Rooney was disabled throughout the relevant time due to “a combination of symptoms of the menopause associated
with symptoms of stress and anxiety”.
EHRC chairwoman Baroness Kishwer Falkner said: “Menopause symptoms can significantly affect someone’s ability to work. Employers have a responsibility to support employees going through the menopause – it is to their benefit to do so, and the benefit of the wider workforce. Every employer should take note of this hearing.
“I am pleased we can support Ms Rooney with her case which she has been fighting for several years now.”
Rooney said: “I was a dedicated children’s social worker and I worked at Leicester City Council for 12 years but when I started suffering with work related stress and anxiety and menopausal symptoms nobody listened or helped me.”
She added: “I am very grateful that the EHRC is supporting my case now and hopefully my case will help other people who may be being discriminated against, harassed or victimised in their workplaces.“
Leicester City Council has been approached for comment.
Supporting colleagues through the menopause
Managers and practitioners can learn how to support colleagues through the menopause transition at a seminar on day one of Community Care Live 2023, which takes place on 10-11 October at London’s Business Design Centre.
Independent social work consultant Dr Catherine Pestano will help you understand how the menopause transition may manifest in the workplace and identify trauma-informed way to help those affected.