Accountant on maternity leave 'sacked after cancer diagnosis'

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An accountant was sacked after she was diagnosed as having cancer while pregnant, an industrial tribunal was told today.

Carole Coe, 30, had to undergo painful chemotherapy treatment, and a hysterectomy, after giving birth to her daughter Sarah last year. She told her employers at a snack-food firm that she would be able to return to work in May 1995. Instead, she was dismissed, the Manchester hearing was told.

Ms Coe, of Hyde, Greater Manchester, is claiming sex discrimination against the Leeds-based Tee-Gee Snacks, which employs 200 people at two factories. She is claiming more than pounds 180,000 compensation - five years' salary plus more than pounds 80,000 in life assurance benefits which she has lost.

On 6 April 1994, her doctor told her she was pregnant. The baby was due in December, and Ms Coe handed a pregnancy certificate to Tee-Gee's personnel manager, Tony Bass. Later, she took two weeks' sick leave because of a threatened miscarriage. "When I returned in June 1994, I felt they were trying to . . . undermine my position," she told the tribunal, saying that she was no longer invited to planning meetings.

Ms Coe left the company in July as her pregnancy progressed. On 19 August, she was told she had cancer. The company's finance director, Richard Fullwell ,visited her, and she told him she was entitled to maternity leave until January 1995.

"He said he had heard a rumour I was willing to go for pounds 20,000 [her annual salary]." Ms Coe said. She replied that this was not true, and that she wanted to continue [working] after the baby was born.

Sarah was born prematurely in October 1994. The following month Ms Coe left hospital after a hysterectomy in a "great deal of pain". At the end of November, she started "particularly rough" chemotherapy.

She had explained the situation to her employers who seemed happy that she should return to work in May 1995.

A short time later Mr Bass rang her. "He told me that due to the life insurance policy with the company's occupational pension scheme, the company had an interest in my estate and that I should make a will in case the treatment did not work," she said. "I was shocked . . . but said I would think about it."

When she returned home, she received a dismissal letter from Tee-Gee, enclosing her P45. Ms Coe, who is now in remission from the disease, said the company had not said anything previously about her leaving. "The assurance was there that I would be returning to work," she said. "I was told my sick note was not a problem."

But she did notice that her desk had gone from her office.