Woman going through menopause wins nearly £65k in discrimination case

Direct Line consultant going through menopause wins nearly £65k in disability discrimination case after her boss refused to give her a pay rise because she was ‘under performing’

  • Maxine Lynskey sued the firm for ‘unfavourable treatment’ due to menopause 
  • She was awarded a total of £64,645.07 in damages following tribunal in Leeds 

A Direct Line insurance company worker going through the menopause has been awarded nearly £65,000 in a disability discrimination case after her boss refused to give her a pay rise because she was ‘under performing’. 

Maxine Lynskey started to suffer from ‘brain fog’, concentration and memory issues due to the onset of the menopause, which affected her work for Direct Line. 

Her boss Danielle Wilburn told her she would not be receiving a pay rise because her performance was rated ‘need for improvement’. 

Mrs Lynskey quit just over a year later and sued Direct Line for constructive unfair dismissal, sex and age-related harassment and failure to make reasonable adjustments, along with unfavourable treatment connecting to her symptoms of menopause.  

A tribunal hearing in Leeds heard she took ‘great pride’ in her work and was ‘very enthusiastic’ about her role as a telesales consultant.

Maxine Lynskey worked as a tele sales consultant at Direct Line. Her boss refused to give her a pay rise because she was ‘under performing’, despite Mrs Lynskey telling her she was going through the menopause

But she became ‘frequently tearful’ and was ‘less resilient to life’s vicissitudes’ when the menopause hit, but her bosses – who knew she was suffering from the condition – eventually ‘reached the limit’ of their compassion for her, the tribunal was told.

Married Mrs Lynskey resigned after being being formally disciplined by the company for her poor performance.

She successfully sued Direct Line for ‘unfavourable treatment’ due to the menopause after the tribunal ruled the condition had left her ‘mentally impaired’. She was awarded a total of £64,645.07 in damages.

The hearing was told Mrs Lynskey began working for Direct Line in April 2016.

For the first four years she performed well in the role, but by March 2020 she was suffering menopausal symptoms and had shared that with her employers.

In June 2020 she was transferred to another lower paid role, which managers felt would be less challenging for her.

The tribunal heard that from July 1 2020, she struggled to meet the performance requirements in the new job and was described by managers as ‘constantly trying to keep her head above water’.

The tribunal heard that her menopausal symptoms included ‘brain fog’ and concentration difficulties, particularly in retaining information, and she was much ‘less resilient to life’s vicissitudes, being frequently tearful’.

She struggled to retain or access computer systems she had used for a long time, she ‘struggled for words’ and in trying to reduce wasted time on calls she became ‘cold and unfriendly’ at times.

In January 2021, boss Danielle Wilburn told her she would not be receiving a pay rise because her performance was rated ‘need for improvement’.

In April the company commenced formal performance management proceedings against Mrs Lynskey.

During these proceedings, her boss told HR there were no ‘underlying conditions’ and confirmed she ‘does not have any mitigation as to why the guidelines for her role are not been followed’.

Mrs Lynskey was given a written warning and put on a performance improvement plan.

An employment judge at The Leeds Employment Tribunal (pictured within the City Exchange in Leeds, file photo) awarded Mrs Lynskey nearly £65,000 in damages

She resigned in May the next year and sued Direct Line.

Upholding her unfavourable treatment and reasonable adjustment claims, the panel found refusing her a pay rise was unfair as she couldn’t improve her performance due to her menopausal symptoms.

Employment Judge Jennifer Maria Wade said bosses had ‘reached the limits’ of compassion to support Mrs Lynskey.

In regard to the rejection of the pay rise, Judge Wade said: ‘Is this – an honest assessment with pay consequences – unfavourable treatment, about which [Mrs Lynskey] could justifiably complain?

‘In our judgment it was, in all the circumstances of this case: she had previously had good performance ratings across four annual assessments by the [company]; she had informed the [company] of the reasons she now struggled to retain information, and was emotional; she was mentally impaired because of the symptoms of menopause – there was a clear reason; and she was a disabled person as a result.

‘She could in those circumstances reasonably expect some reflection on whether she should be given the benefit of the doubt – rating her performance as ‘good’ in the sense that she was doing all she could to achieve within her limitations.

”Need for improvement’ is inherently unfavourable if the person, through disability, cannot, in fact, improve, or meet the required standards.

‘The menopause and its symptoms were mentioned many times by [Mrs Lynskey] during the course of the disciplinary meeting, [but they] appeared not to listen or take in the significance of the explanations [Mrs Lynskey] was giving.

‘It is clear a less discriminatory approach could have been taken, including occupational health referral, consideration of other roles, and accepting [Mrs Lynskey’s] mitigation, namely her disability.’

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