A former Link insurance manager – a firm that prides itself on selling policies designed for women – has accepted a £70,000 settlement after taking her former employer to a tribunal claiming sex discrimination.
Anne Nelson, 43, of Rogersmead, Tenterden, was seeking damages from Maidstone-based Link Insurance Services for receiving lower pay and fewer benefits than her male colleagues.
She also told the Ashford tribunal last week that a departmental reorganisation last year, which went ahead without any prior consultation, left her in a demoted position.
On the third day of the hearing at Tufton House, the company offered the payment and was told by tribunal chairman Michael Zuke, who accepted the outcome, to rethink its policies.
Mr Zuke added: “We hope the respondent will take the opportunity to look on it as a learning experience, and revisit their practices and policies for the future.”
Mrs Nelson's barrister, Daniel Barnett, told the hearing that she had joined Link in February 1986 and by 1997 was motor department manager.
During that time, she was paid by Link, together with other senior female colleagues, who received the perk of private health insurance.
But male managers had a contract with Link's parent company, London-based Kiln, which led to a different pay structure and extra benefits including company cars, mobile phones, the use of holiday accommodation and entry to the Over 35s Club, a useful networking arena.
Mr Barnett said: “It was discriminatory purely on the grounds of sex and this is ironic, considering the company prided itself on policies for women.”
One slogan it used was Link Loves Ladies.
On June 23 1999, Mrs Nelson was told the motor section was reorganising and she would no longer be its head. The title, a number of staff and the technical work were all transferred to the new department, and she was left purely in charge of processing. She was not offered, interviewed or considered for the other post, which also gained some extra responsibilities. She resigned seven days later.
Mrs Nelson, who has been prescribed drugs for depression and has also attended counselling sessions, said: “That day haunts me. The interesting bits were being taken away from me. I would no longer have any technical imput and contact with the outside world would also go. If it ain't processing, you won't touch it – that was the attitude, and I had no say. I was demoted, humiliated and left with no option but to resign.”
In front of the tribunal panel, Link, which described its equal opportunities policy as “un- written” in a questionnaire compiled for the case, conceded that Peter Smith, Mrs Nelson's colleague, and eventual successor as motor manager, had enjoyed a more favourable contract despite doing work of equal value.
And on Wednesday, as the company made the offer, its barrister, Lindsay Boswell QC, said senior managers “recognised and regretted Mrs Nelson did not have the opportunity of discussion on the necessary reorganisation”.
Link chairman Andrew Fleming added: “We have made an open and
substantial offer, which was accepted very quickly, and there were three reasons for that offer. There were ten people due to give evidence and we realised this might run longer than the five days. It was causing huge disruption to the business and there was also the big legal expense. We were aware of the trauma of the applicant and it was much in her interest to accept. We are delighted and relieved this is the end.”
Justin Nelson, Mrs Nelson's husband, and a Cranbrook-based solicitor, said: “I knew we were going to win. My wife was simply telling the truth.”