Fashion designer subjected to age discrimination awarded £96k

Fashion designer subjected to age discrimination awarded £96k

Fashion designer subjected to age discrimination awarded £96k

Posted: 21/09/2022

A fashion designer in her early fifties who was passed over for promotion has been awarded £96,000 after making an age discrimination claim. 

Joanne Stronach Director and Head of Employment & HR reports on this recent case.

The case involved Rachel Sunderland, who had worked as a knitwear specialist for Superdry since 2015.  

Sunderland had 30 years’ experience in the industry and had worked for well-known brands such as Fang Bros and Boden before she joined Superdry.  

Her experience was beneficial to her employer. Men’s knitwear sales had fallen but after Sunderland was put in charge of design, figures increased by 63% in her first season. 

She was rated as a “master” by her bosses in 2017 and 2018.  

However, in 2017, two of her younger colleagues were promoted to senior designer positions while Sunderland remained a designer. 

In 2018, Superdry restructured its employee hierarchy into five categories: trainee designer, assistant designer, designer, lead designer and design manager.  

Sunderland claimed she was experienced enough to qualify for a lead designer position. 

However, the promotion never materialised, and then the workplace was brought to a standstill by the Covid pandemic. 

When furlough ended, Sunderland was assigned to the autumn-winter 2020 knitted accessories range. 

She said she felt it was a demotion as she had gone from leading the men’s knitwear design team to designing key fobs and beanies. She felt humiliated and degraded and became ill from the stress. 

She resigned in 2020 and brought a claim of age discrimination.  

The tribunal heard that Sunderland’s employers considered her to be a “low fight risk” compared to her younger colleagues. 

They felt that she would stay with the company no matter how she was treated.  

The tribunal ruled in favour of Sunderland. The attitude of her employer had led to her being passed over for promotions in favour of less experienced colleagues.   

Employment Judge David Hughes said: “We find that the decision makers decided not to promote Sunderland because they judged that there was little risk of her leaving the business no matter how she was treated. 

“We find that a similarly valuable designer who was significantly younger than her probably would have been promoted.”  

Sunderland was awarded £96,000 in damages.

For more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law please contact Joanne on 01228 516666 or click here to send her an email.