A Highland councillor has been suspended by a standards watchdog after it found she discriminated against a colleague because she was pregnant.
Cromarty Firth councillor Maxine Smith was also sanctioned for failing to declare an interest in two businesses in a timely fashion.
The Standards Commission carried out an investigation into councillor Smith’s conduct after a complaint was raised.
It held a hearing today and determined that she had broke the councillors’ code of conduct.
The suspension will last for a month.
Why was the complaint raised?
The discrimination complaint emerged following an email sent by councillor Smith after she was re-elected in May 2022.
Two members from the Cromarty Firth ward were required to represent it on the council’s north planning applications committee.
Councillor Smith said the role needed a “continuous and consistent” presence and recommended that newly-elected colleague Molly Nolan join her.
She said that councillor Pauline Munro would have conflicts of interest that wouldn’t make her an appropriate choice.
The remaining councillor in the ward, Tamala Collier, was not mentioned by name but was included in the email trail.
Councillor Collier was pregnant at the time and councillor Smith said she was anticipating that she would be going on maternity leave.
The hearing heard that councillor Smith was given three email reminders by staff to complete her register of interests after she was re-elected in May 2022.
Smith, who has been elected for four Highland Council terms, said she thought that the register had carried over from previous election terms.
She wasn’t aware she needed to do it again.
‘I would consider myself part of the sisterhood’
The complaints were raised by councillor Collier’s husband, James.
The SNP councillor ultimately decided against taking maternity leave from her council duties when her son was born in September 2022.
Both Collier and Smith were ultimately elected to the north planning committee.
During the hearing, mother-of-two Smith denied that she had discriminated against her ward colleague.
She said: “Women should be afforded these opportunities. I know how difficult it is, it was totally different when I started work.
“I’m a Waspi woman who lost her pension at 60. The glass ceiling is there and we need to break through it.
“I would consider myself part of the sisterhood and would not prejudice against any other female.”
What did the Standards Commission say?
The Standards Commission panel was led by Suzie Vestri.
She said: “The panel noted the respondent [Maxine Smith]’s long-standing contribution to the council, as highlighted in the numerous character references provided.
“She has offered an unreserved apology in respect of failing to declare her interests.
“The respondent had every right to nominate herself or others to the planning committee.
“But the panel noted that the assumptions she made resulted in a failure to advance the equality of opportunity.
“The panel further noted this to be discourteous.”
The panel accepted that councillor Smith had not intended to discriminate against her colleague.
How has Maxine Smith responded?
Speaking after the ruling, councillor Smith said it had been a stressful situation.
“I accept the commission had to sanction me on these issues and a one month suspension is more than acceptable to me,” she said.
“I’m glad to put this behind me as I’ve been a shadow of my former self and highly stressed and unable to do my council job properly.
“Being a councillor in these conditions is extremely trying and stressful and nobody should have to go through this.”
The start date for the suspension will be announced within 14 days.