A 14-year-old schoolgirl was the victim of direct discrimination when her employer fired her for being “too young”, a tribunal has ruled.
Miss H Cassidy, who was represented by her mother, has become one of the youngest people in the UK to win an employment tribunal after her employer fired her from a part-time waitressing position because, the judge said, they were “not enamoured” with employing younger members of staff.
The tribunal ruled that Cassidy, who worked only two days of her Saturday job at the Daimler Foundation’s cafe, was discriminated against when her employer tried to argue that she was “unable to cope with the severity of the job”, which entailed serving customers and cleaning.
She was awarded just under £3,000. A further claim for harassment was not upheld.
The tribunal heard that Cassidy interviewed for the position of part-time waitress when she was 14 years old in November 2019, and provided her age when applying for the role online. After she was told she was successful, Cassidy was asked to complete a starter’s form which included her date of birth.
Her first day, which she was told would be a “form of trial” was on 7 December 2019. The front of house manager Mr Easy showed Cassidy how to use the till and she waited on and cleaned tables, tidied dishes, worked the till and loaded the dishwasher. The tribunal heard that at the end of her shift, Easy said something to the effect that he was “pleased with her work”.
Cassidy’s understanding was that she passed the trial period and would work Saturdays between 10am and 2pm, with the potential to take on extra shifts when required.Easy told the tribunal that he had “not initially known” Cassidy’s age. However, the tribunal did not find this credible, stating it was obvious that Cassidy was “a young girl”, and that it would have been “more obvious” to Easy because Cassidy had only recently turned 14.
On her second day at work, on 14 December 2019, Cassidy was taking an order at the till when she was approached by the owner’s partner and told she shouldn’t be on the till.
Later that day, Easy told Cassidy and another member of staff they could leave early because the cafe wasn’t busy, and Cassidy cleaned cutlery while she waited to be collected by her mother.
Easy denied this and said that he sent Cassidy home because the cafe was “too busy” and that by cleaning cutlery she had “not [followed] instruction”. However, the tribunal found this to be “contrary to common sense” and preferred Cassidy’s version of events.
The tribunal heard that on 20 December, Cassidy received a call from Easy who told her he enjoyed working with her but that she could not continue to work at the cafe. Easy said that the accountant informed him Cassidy “was too young [to work there] for health and safety reasons”. He also assured Cassidy she hadn’t “done anything wrong”.
Easy denied this happened and told the tribunal he said the role was “too severe, and too stressful, and that she was not able to cope with the severity of the job”. However, the tribunal did not accept his evidence that she had become “unduly stressed”, because it found Cassidy’s manner when she gave evidence to be “calm, measured and entirely appropriate” without any hint of her being stressed, even during cross examination.
Cassidy told the tribunal she was shocked by the call which she had “not been expecting” adding that she was “upset and distressed” because it was her first job and she was enjoying it.
The tribunal concluded that Cassidy had established a prima facie case meaning that on first impression age was “at least a factor” in the decision to end her employment.
Judge Kemp said Easy gave evidence that indicated he was “not enamoured of employing staff as young as [Cassidy]” and that her age was a “factor in ending employment for the claimant”.
The judge also noted that the case was “unusual” given the claimant’s age and the short duration of her employment.
Cassidy was awarded the lower end of compensation band of £2,500 for injury to feeling and direct discrimination with an additional interest of £300.
Julie Taylor, partner at Gardner Leader, said the case highlights the need for employers to know the law around employing young workers.
“The employer in this case appears to have relied on advice from their accountant without fully investigating the legal options and without also following any procedure,” said Taylor.
“It is permissible to employ young workers from the age of 13, provided that the additional limits on working time, work during term-time and enhanced health and safety duties are observed, along with any additional restrictions imposed by the local authority,” she added.
Joanne Frew, UK head of employment law at DWF, noted that unlike other protected characteristics, direct age discrimination could be justified if the employer can show its treatment of an employee was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
Failing to submit a justification defence where appropriate “puts the employer at risk should their argument that the less favourable treatment did not occur fails,” she said.
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