The chairman and founder of womenswear retailer Jigsaw is being sued by a former employee for sex discrimination, unfair dismissal, and discrimination on the grounds of maternity.
Kate Torpey, who held various roles at parent company Robinson Webster Holdings between 1996-2011, including managing director at Jigsaw’s now-defunct stablemate Kew, alleges that the company and Robinson twice overlooked her for the role of chief financial officer for the group after she became pregnant.
In December 2011, Torpey resigned from the company, having already taken time off for stress.
Torpey told the employment tribunal, which is being heard in Croydon this week, that problems had first emerged after returning from her first time on maternity leave in September 2009.
She claimed that Robinson’s attitude towards her and the new working relationship was “embarrassing and it undermined my authority”.
She added: “I felt his opinion of me had changed and I felt side-lined.”
In the run up to her second period of maternity leave, starting May 2010, she alleged that Robinson “was irritated that I was going on maternity leave again and he gave no consideration to my state of health.”
On her return, she continued to seek promotion to the role of group chief financial officer. Torpey said she was eventually offered it by another member of management, but was told while on holiday that Robinson had overruled this decision.
Torpey claimed an email sent by Robinson to his replacement chief executive Des Swan “shows that John equated motherhood with reduced commitment and so had a dismissive attitude towards me.”
She added: “I had suspected that John had begun to write me off once I had started to have children, but it is no particular comfort to see that feeling confirmed so starkly in writing.”
However, Robinson told the tribunal he had been “consistent” in his view that Torpey “did not have the appropriate skills to be considered for the position of group CFO of the company” since at least 2009. He noted that Kew had not made a profit during Torpey’s four year tenure as managing director.
Robinson said the email had outlined why he was against her promotion, noting “I found it difficult to see what Kate brought to the table as MD of Kew…I really thought she had lost her confidence and had other priorities to being MD of Kew.”
He added: “My decision not to accept Kate’s demand to be given the group CFO role had nothing to do with Kate’s pregnancy. Kate was fully aware that I did not want to consider her for the group CFO role as I had stated in many previous emails and conversations going back to 2012… None of these reasons were to do with Kate’s pregnancy.”
The tribunal continues this week. A judgement is expected in April.