An experienced process operator has received £200,000 in compensation after she was sexually discriminated against by her employer.

Newcastle Employment Tribunal heard how Pamela Newton, 49, from Ingleby Barwick in Stockton on Tees was forced to work in an administrative role even though she had more than 13 years experience working as an aircraft fitter. 

She was employed by DuPont for 11 years as the first and only female operator on her plant based in Wilton.

Before starting with DuPont she had worked as an Aircraft Fitter for more than 13 years, gaining her qualifications while serving for 7 years in the Women’s Royal Naval Service (“WRNS”), then working for BAE Systems and Airwork at RAF Linton-on-Ouse.

Shortly after being employed she was told by her boss that she was only hired because she was a member of a minority group. Throughout her employment she was constantly made to do administrative and clerical work as extra duties whilst the men were given more mechanical tasks. By 2006, she was working almost full-time on administrative duties.

In February 2004, it was decided that the operators would do their own plant maintenance and two of them would be sent on an “in house” NVQ fitting course. Three operators including Mrs Newton had fitting qualifications and brought in their certificates. The two men were selected. One of the men dropped out of the course and management then picked another male operator who had no fitting qualifications to attend the NVQ course rather than Mrs Newton.

In February 2007, she was told due to cost cutting she was being transferred to work in the research department and cover trials in Dumfries but was not given a job description or a job title.

As the longest serving operator she was given no prior notice and she would lose shift pay, an amount that made up a significant portion of her annual salary.

Mrs Newton complained that she had been singled out for the transfer when she was the longest serving operator working in her department. Following her union’s advice she put her complaint in writing, asking why she had been picked and why they wouldn’t give her a job title or description. Rather than meet with her to explain their decision her managers instead changed her Annual Appraisal without her knowledge, adding a comment that not only devalued her work but also stated that time she had taken off for a hysterectomy the previous year had affected her work and this was used as a means of giving Mrs Newton a lower pay rise.

The Process Group Development Manager said that she’d be given a ‘father figure’ to look after her when she transferred to the research department and when she asked to see a copy of the company’s selection process he informed her “this move doesn’t warrant use of the selection process…it’s simply that a space is there…and it’s you who’s filling it”.

At one point she was told by her boss to get off the plant floor and return to work in the plant office, even though her job was as a plant operator.

When she was signed off with acute work-related stress in May 2007 her union Unite instructed Thompsons Solicitors to pursue a sexual discrimination case at Employment Tribunal.

The tribunal found Dupont guilty of continual sexual discrimination against Mrs Newton. They ordered Dupont to pay the compensation for future loss of earnings and loss of pension.

Mrs Newton said: “It is such a relief to have won this tribunal. I can now put eight years of discrimination behind me and concentrate on the future. Bob Bolam has been my rock; he supported me from day one and always made me feel safe during grievance meetings. All of the legal team have been fantastic and very approachable. During the case I was encouraged by a quote from the Unite Magazine. It read “If you fight you might not always win but if you don’t try you will surely lose”.

“I was the first female aircraft fitter to be employed by BAE Systems in Southampton and by Airwork and at both those companies and in the WRNS I had always been treated the same as my male colleagues. 

“When I first started working for Dupont I was the first female operator on my plant and I am still the first female operator. I wanted to remain working shifts on the shop floor with the other operators - they’re a great team who accepted me and included me in the plant banter. They were friends as well as colleagues. I never wanted to work days in an office environment, particularly as despite frequent requests my managers would never tell me what this new job was to be. At one point I was told by my boss “I’ll ask [my manager]…but I doubt he’ll be interested”. In the 11 years I worked for the firm I was the only operator who was told to stop working in the plant and to work in the office and the first to be told to move to another job on a permanent basis against my will.”

Davey Hall Unite Regional Secretary said: “Mrs Newton has shown both strength and courage to fight this case through the employment tribunal. She was subjected to many years of discrimination by an employer who refused to recognise her substantial skills and experience.”

Haylee Emmett from Thompsons Solicitors said: “Mrs Newton has shown that those facing discrimination in the workplace should not fear speaking up. 

“This is a clear message from the judiciary that sexual discrimination will not be tolerated.

“It should give confidence to employees facing bad or unlawful decisions made by those in power.”