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Gloucestershire Business News

Superdry designer wins almost £100,000 in compensation

An experienced designer for Gloucestershire-based fashion retailer Superdry has won almost £100,000 in compensation after her bosses refused to promote her.

Bosses thought knitwear design expert Rachel Sunderland was too old to quit. She was deemed a low 'flight risk' from the company compared to younger members of staff and would stay 'no matter how she was treated', an employment tribunal heard.

Mail Online reported that as a result, she was repeatedly passed over for promotion in favour of other colleagues with less experience until she felt forced to resign.

Ms Sunderland - who is thought to be in her early 50s - has won £96,208.70 in compensation, after winning claims of unfair dismissal and age discrimination.

The tribunal, held in Bristol, heard she had more than 30 years' experience in the fashion industry at brands like Fang Bros and Boden before joining Superdry as a designer in 2015.

In the first season in which she was responsible for designing Superdry's range of men's knitwear, sales - which had been falling - increased by 63 per cent.

Her performances were applauded by her bosses, but the risk of her leaving Superdry was assessed as 'low', whilst the impact of her leaving was assessed as 'medium'.

The tribunal heard that, when Ms Sunderland first started working at the fashion brand everyone had the title of 'designer', but this changed in 2017 when two of her colleagues were promoted to 'senior designer'.

She raised this issue in an appraisal meeting with her manager in March 2017 but he told her she needed to undertake other responsibilities to reach the rank of senior designer, said Mail Online

In April 2020, Ms Sunderland was placed on furlough until July 2020.

Ms Sunderland handed in her notice in July 2020, whereupon she was told she would have to work a three-month notice period 'as the design department was short-staffed', which she said she found 'demoralising'.

She told the tribunal that, in the lead up to tendering her resignation, she had felt much frustration and emotional stress, and decided that 'enough was enough'.

She said that she had made herself ill with the stress of the previous year, and couldn't continue to work in an environment where unreasonable pressure was placed on her, combined with the refusal of management to give her the recognition that she felt her skills and experience deserved.

She described feeling 'humiliated and degraded' when junior members of staff asked why she was not a lead designer.

After she resigned, Ms Sunderland raised a formal grievance about the way she had been treated, but this was dismissed and as part of the process she was described as 'scatty'.

Employment Judge David Hughes said this comment was 'loaded with subjectivity, the sort of term that verges on a term of abuse and which the Tribunal would not expect to be used to describe a younger, male colleague'.

Regarding her lack of promotion, the judge added: 'We find that [Superdry] did this in significant part because of [Ms Sunderland's] age.

'We have already noted that [her] flight risk was assessed as low. We consider that older members of staff are likely to have a perceived lower flight risk.

'We do not accept the reasons advanced by [Superdry] for not promoting [Ms Sunderland].

'We find that the decision-makers decided not to promote... because they judged that there was little risk of her leaving the business no matter how she was treated. We find that they probably thought this in significant measure because of her age."

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