Headteacher admits maternity leave can be ‘difficult’

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By Christine Lavelle

THE head-teacher of a top private school which is being sued for sex discrimination by a female employee admitted it was “difficult” for management to deal with women falling pregnant in the workplace.

But Peter Hogan, 49, head of Loretto School in East Lothian, said laws were in place to offer protection to such staff and that he had never discriminated against any of his employees over maternity.

Fiona Gordon, 41, has taken the school to an employment tribunal in Edinburgh claiming that she was discriminated against by Mr Hogan after announcing her expectancy to him.

She claims he had threatened her with redundancy and that when she eventually returned to work, discovered her old job had been axed in a reorganisation and that she was offered an inferior, lesser paying position.

She alleged he warned her she would lose her job, alleging he said: “My wife was made redundant when she became pregnant – it is a real pain when women go on maternity leave.”

However speaking in his defence, Mr Hogan insisted that she had simply misunderstood his remarks which had, he said, actually been offered as reassurance that he was sympathetic to her condition.

Mr Hogan, head at the school since August 2008, said: “I think this all comes down to a war of words, I think Mrs Gordon has interpreted what I said all wrong.

“Even if I had wanted to make her redundant, which I didn’t, there are so many laws in place now that I wouldn’t be able to.

“She was in the room for quite some time when we talked, and did not run out straight away as she says she did.

“If there was a problem then I wish she would have told me – I had no idea she had taken it to mean that.”

He told the tribunal: “It is difficult when women go on maternity leave from a management point of view.

“But it is a difficulty that I welcome because children are the future of schools, so I obviously support it.

“I have had many women take leave to have children before and after Mrs Gordon’s case, and I know they get concerned about how and when to return to work.

“I thought after speaking to her that she understood she would not be being made redundant because of it.”

The head teacher of the £8,700-a-term school also spoke of the Mrs Gordon’s claims that he told her he going to “capitalise on her pregnancy to restructure the department.”

He said: “I had been planning for a while to review the way in which each department was staffed, and this again is a statement which I think was taken out of context.

‘She was upset’

“I was restructuring the department, yes, but that did not mean Mrs Gordon would be out of a job.

“I could tell at that meeting that she was upset with what I had said but I honestly never meant it in the way she took it.”

When Mrs Gordon returned from maternity leave she said she was offered a demoted job, with the title ‘registrar’, which she said was the job she started out doing 19 years ago and saw it as a massive step down.

Mr Hogan said: “In other schools I’ve worked in, the title registrar was the highest obtainable in the admissions department.

“When Mrs Gordon disputed it we changed her title back – I think she is very good at her job and was happy to hear she was returning.”

Mrs Gordon is suing the school for a total of £19,000 for lost income and legal fees.

She and Mr Hogan are the only witnesses to have given evidence so far at the hearing which continues.

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