‘Inappropriate’ to breastfeed baby in office, Ascot employee was told

Helen Ballerino was an accountant for Ascot racecourse
Helen Ballerino was an accountant for Ascot racecourse - Champion News Service

A former accountant at Ascot is suing the racecourse after claiming she could not breastfeed in her office.

Helen Ballerino claims she was discriminated against when bosses told her it would be “inappropriate” for her to feed her baby while in the office for occasional days during her maternity leave.

The 38-year-old, who was working for a horse-racing trade body based at the late Queen’s favourite racecourse, said it was part of a series of maternity-related discrimination she faced before she was made redundant.

She has taken her case against the Racecourse Association, which represents 59 UK racecourses, to the Employment Appeal Tribunal in London.

Her original case was dismissed by a tribunal in Reading in May 2022, but Ms Ballerino appealed and judges have yet to give a ruling.

The original tribunal was told she began working at the association in August 2018 while she was pregnant and went on maternity leave in December that year.

She planned to work several “keeping in touch” days in the office during her time off.

Ms Ballerino said she agreed with her superiors that, on the days she came into work, she could bring her baby son and look after and feed him in her office.

However, she complained that, in a later conversation with her line manager, she was told that it would be “inappropriate” for her to breastfeed in the office.

Her former employers denied that, claiming that what was meant was that it would be inappropriate to work in the office while caring for a baby at the same time.

Ms Ballerino, who had mostly worked from home, eventually left her part-time job at Ascot when a new wider role was created in place of her position and she was made redundant.

She sued her former bosses, claiming she was discriminated against as a mother by not being allowed to breastfeed during her days at work.

Complaints dismissed

At the employment tribunal in May 2022, Judge Laurie Anstis dismissed her complaints, saying she had not been discriminated against.

He agreed with the employer’s account that their objection was not to breastfeeding in the office, but to having an employee working and caring for a baby at the same time.

“Bringing her baby into the office for a full work day was plainly something that, by that time, the claimant wanted to do,” he said.

Despite her defeat at the tribunal, Ms Ballerino has continued her legal fight and last week took her case to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

Appealing, her barrister Robin Pickard argued that there had been a failure to apply the law correctly in deciding whether the redundancy was a genuine one and not related to her maternity.

“The tribunal had to satisfy itself whether there was a genuine redundancy,” he told Mrs Justice Eady.

He went on to say that what happened was “not even close to the legal analogue of a redundancy”.

However, for the former employer, barrister Sofia Haroo argued that the decision below was correct and should be upheld.

The judge reserved her decision on the case until a later date.