26 August 2004
A woman former head of procurement is seeking £500,000 in compensation in what could be the largest award for a sex discrimination case outside the City.
An employment tribunal in Newcastle last week found waste management company Sita UK guilty of sex discrimination, unequal pay and unfair dismissal.
Kim Hope was sacked last September and replaced by a man with no procurement qualifications on triple her £35,000 salary.
Hope, 41, who had worked for Sita since 1998, told SM: "I feel totally vindicated. The whole thing has been extremely traumatic. I could not have worked harder for that company if I had owned it. I felt as if I had been well and truly stitched up."
The decision to dismiss Hope, a CIPS member now working for Northumbria Water in Durham, was taken after a company restructuring in April last year left the head of asset management, Matthew McGeehan, without a role in the company. He was given Hope's job.
Stefan Cross, Hope's solicitor, said it was extremely rare for women in senior management to get involved in sex discrimination cases because of how it might affect their career prospects.
"This is potentially one of the largest single awards that could be made in terms of bringing home to managers in procurement the risk of not complying with the law when it comes to equal pay," he said.
"There was a difference of over £50,000 a year between what Hope was paid and what McGeehan was paid when he replaced her."
Cross said the personnel department's attitude towards female professionals was that if the job was done by a man it would carry more weight.
He warned: "Personnel departments can't simply put the Equal Pay Act's code of practice on the shelf and let it gather dust, as Sita did."
In a written statement, Per-Anders Hjort, Sita UK's managing director, told SM: "I am very surprised by the tribunal's decision and am considering all options. I take my responsibility to our employees very seriously indeed and can confirm the company's firm commitment to equal opportunities."
Sita has six weeks to appeal against the ruling.
In its mission statement, the company, which has many public-sector clients including local authorities, says it is committed to "developing and empowering our staff to ensure Sita exceeds the standards demanded by stakeholders".
Sita's French parent company, Suez, says in its statement of core values that it guarantees "each individual, irrespective of sex, race, nationality, religion or culture, equal opportunities for recruitment, work, personal and professional development and promotion."
Hope's award will be decided at a second hearing in November.
News focus: Bias ruling tests profession's values