City worker loses sex discrimination case

A woman who was made redundant while on maternity leave has lost her case for sexual discrimination against a City firm. The ruling bucks the recent trend of awards against City firms and could discourage some future cases.

Andrea Madarassy worked for Nomura International as an equities banker but was made redundant in 2001 while on maternity leave. She made a £1 million sex discrimination claim.

The Court of Appeal ruled in the case, which was itself appealed from the Employment Appeals Tribunal, and found that Madarassy had not met the burden of proof required to show that she was discriminated against because of her sex.

The burden of proof in a sex discrimination claim is complicated, and it shifts from one party to another. In his ruling Lord Justice Mummery admitted that there is "an air of unreality about all of this", but that Madarassy had not managed to shift the burden of proof to Nomura.

The person bringing the case must prove that they were treated differently by an employer, and that that treatment could have been as a result of sexual discrimination. If they do, the employer must then prove that it did not discriminate on grounds of sex, which is notoriously hard to do.

Madarassy's case was crucial in that she was said to have proved that she was treated differently to others, but did not prove that that different treatment could have been the result of sexual discrimination. The judge's analysis could end there, since Nomura did not have to prove anything because Madarassy had not proved that there was a case to answer.

"This will stop claimants' lawyers running away with the notion that all they have to do is prove a difference in treatment," said Jonathan Coley, an employment specialist with Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM.

"It's a reinforcement of existing principles and it confirms that it is not simply a question of the burden of proof shifting once an individual has shown a difference of treatment," said Coley. "It is helpful to employers in that sense."

"The bare facts of a difference in status and a difference in treatment only indicate a possibility of discrimination," said Mummery in his ruling. "They are not, without more, sufficient material from which a tribunal 'could conclude' that, on the balance of probabilities, the respondent had committed an unlawful act of discrimination."

The court backed the decision of the Employment Appeals Tribunal dismissing Madarassy's claim.

The decision follows a number of high profile cases involving City firms. Helen Green was awarded £800,000 from her employer Deutsche Bank after her claim of bullying and harassment at work was backed by the courts.

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