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The Claimant, Ms Mellor, had been allowed to express milk in a special room at Mirfield Free Grammar School after her first child but was told this was ‘not an option’ due to COVID-19 rules after the birth of her second baby, despite her repeatedly asking for access to facilities.

As no room was provided, Ms Mellor was left with few alternatives for expressing: in the car park, where she ran the risk of being seen by students; or the “often dirty” toilets during her lunch break.

Due to the fact that her lunch break lasted only 25 minutes, and expressing milk takes up to 20 minutes, Ms Mellor had little time for anything else during her break and was often forced to eat her lunch in the toilets while expressing milk, which she found “unhygienic” and “disgusting”.

Ms Mellor told the tribunal she believed the MFG Academies Trust had an altogether “negative attitude” towards pregnancy and maternity. The Trust responded to this by stating that in their view, Ms Mellor would have raised a grievance if she’d had a real issue in respect of a place to express milk.

The Tribunal found that the Claimant “reasonably and genuinely felt compelled to act in a way that she did not want to, she was, we find, forced to do so”.

The Tribunal found that the Respondent subjected the Claimant to unwanted conduct by forcing her to express milk in the toilet and/or car park and that the conduct of the Respondent had the effect of creating a degrading and/or humiliating environment for the Claimant. As such the Tribunal found that the Respondent had subjected the Claimant to harassment on the grounds of her sex.

Though this is only an Employment Tribunal decision and therefore not binding, it is a reminder for employers to take steps to support women who are pregnant and upon their return to work following a period of maternity leave, and to ensure that adequate facilities are provided, especially where these are specifically requested.

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