Woman settles flexible working case


A Derry woman whose request to work flexibly was refused after she returned to work from maternity leave has settled her case against Smyths Toys Ltd for £15,000.

Catherine McCaul, 36, was an assistant manager at the company’s Strand Road, Derry, store. In April last year she took maternity leave following the birth of her second child and requested a three-day week to care for her children upon her return to work.

She was willing to work evenings, weekends and days as long as this was within a three-day week but this option was refused, said the Equality Commission.

Anne McKernan, head of legal services at the commission, said: “Indirect sex discrimination arises in cases like this because a much higher percentage of women than men are carers. Sadly, this is quite a common occurrence.”

Almost a third of calls to the commission’s legal advice line are from women complaining of sex discrimination, most happening in the workplace. Smyths Toys is a leading provider of children’s entertainment products with 49 stores in the UK and Ireland. It also sells bikes, books, DVDs and video games.

In Ms McCaul’s case, she felt her employer’s position left her with no option but to resign, which she did in March, claiming the company had not given any real consideration to her request but had applied a blanket policy to her.

The commission said in settling the case Smyths Toys agreed to pay Ms McCaul £15,000 and expressed regret for the injury caused to her feelings.

The company undertook to review its practice of requiring all managers to work full-time and to liaise with the commission in reviewing its equal opportunities policies and practices. The business also agreed to supply Ms McCaul with a written reference.

Ms McCaul said: “I am glad this is over and very much hope that as a result of this settlement fewer women have to go through such a stressful experience as I did.

“I enjoyed my job at Smyths for 10 years and was surprised and disappointed that this was how it ended. I hope this is the first step in getting these issues sorted out at company level.”