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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 August, 2004, 12:32 GMT 13:32 UK
'All I ever wanted was to be a mother'
By Margaret Ryan
BBC News Online

As new research suggests one in four employers believe training a pregnant woman is valueless, two women told BBC News Online how telling their employers their good news ended in heartache and losing their jobs.


Harriet Davies-Taheri knows first hand just how unfairly some employers can treat pregnant women.

Two years ago the former solicitor was sacked from a law firm after telling the partners she was pregnant. Her baby later died after she had to be induced at nearly six months.

She had only just been promoted to manager in the personal injury department of the Sheffield firm Proddow Mackay when she found out she was going to have a baby.

Harriet Davies-Taheri
If you feel absolutely useless and your reputation has been trashed then you are going to do something about it
Harriet Davies-Taher

Having to take some time off due to a threatened miscarriage, she told her employers early on that she was pregnant.

"Once I said I was pregnant, things started to change. Within three weeks I had been marched off the premises. They said I was suspended because I had made mistakes.

"It was shocking. I had worked hard to get to the position I had and I was really angry."

An employment tribunal in Sheffield later accepted her claim for sex discrimination, unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal and last year awarded her 30,000 in compensation.

The tribunal rejected any claim by her former employers that she had been sacked because of misconduct and accused the firm of "unacceptable conduct" after hearing she was told of her dismissal as she lay critically ill in hospital.

Mrs Davies-Taheri is convinced the stress of the case contributed to her baby's death.

She had attended a disciplinary hearing when she was five months pregnant.

"My blood pressure went up a few days afterwards and it was all downhill from there."

She went on to develop HELLP syndrome which resulted in her having to be induced to save her own life.

Her baby boy Benjamin was born alive but died soon afterwards.

But Mrs Davies-Taheri felt she had to fight her corner after having worked her way up the firm from a trainee solicitor.

"Sheffield is a small legal circle and if people think you are rubbish you are not going to be hired again," she said.

She said workers faced a dilemma when they lost their jobs in such circumstances in having to bring a case within three months of dismissal and in having to foot the bill of legal action.

"All I wanted was to be a mother and then I ended up fighting feminist issues which is not really me. But I never felt like giving up," she said.

Two years on, she is not now working and her experience has put her off working again.

As for whether others should pursue cases, she said: "It's a personal decision. You have to weigh up how much you have lost and how much you are likely to lose.

"If you feel absolutely useless and your reputation has been trashed then you are going to do something about it."

No-one from Proddow Mackay was available for comment but after the tribunal, it issued a statement: "We have never before been found to have unfairly dismissed or discriminated against anyone.

"Having trained Mrs Davies-Taheri from her very beginnings in the legal profession, we deeply regret that matters ended as they did."


Lizzie Summerwill had only been in her job as receptionist and trainee nail technician at a nail care salon a month when she learned she was pregnant with her second child.

Worried at the prospect of telling her new employers, she consulted her local Citizens' Advice Bureau who reassured her that she still had rights.

It is important that no matter how big or small a company is it knows what it can and cannot do
Lizzie Summerwill
But when she told her boss he told her he thought it best they "call it a day".

"I just burst into tears. They [employers] said I was not a team player. I felt depressed and that I wasn't worthy," she said.

She claims she even had to seek counselling.

Ms Summerwill, 30, who had previously worked for an investment management firm for 11 years - a job which had included training staff - felt she had to take her case to tribunal.

"It was not about the money. I had to do it to clear my name.

"A lot of people said you had only been there a month but even if you have only been there a day you cannot be dismissed because of your condition.

"It is important that no matter how big or small a company is it knows what it can and cannot do."

She believes that many companies rely on the fact that women may not pursue their cases at a time when they are stressed during pregnancy.

She won more than 7,000 in compensation for unfair dismissal, injury to feelings and loss of earnings after an employment tribunal ruled in favour last year.

Now she has retrained as a massage therapist but recommended that anyone in a similar situation go to a tribunal.

A former director of the business where Mrs Summerwill had worked told the local paper at the time that the case had "abused women's rights" and that the law seemed to give a lot more protection to the employees rather than their employers.

Pregnant lawyer wins sacking case
28 Mar 03  |  England
Pregnant banker loses tribunal
19 Feb 03  |  England

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