A WOMAN HAS been awarded a settlement of almost €47,000 by an Equality Tribunal after she took a case against her former employer claiming that she had been discriminated against because she was pregnant.
In its decision, the tribunal found that the woman, who was employed as a researcher on a series of fixed-term contracts, was discriminated against on grounds of her gender and her family situation by her employer, the National Cancer Registry Board (NCRB).
The NCRB is a public body which collects data on cancer incidence, treatment and survival in Ireland. The board carries out research in order “to help improve cancer outcomes and reduce the cancer burden” according to its website.
The complainant in the case commenced work with the NCRB in March 2010 with no fixed end-date applied to her research contract.
She recalled that her line manager at the NCRB expressed negative comments to her on Irish women having children at two-yearly intervals. Accordingly she was nervous when informing her manager of her own pregnancy in January 2011.
The woman further recalled that the same line manager told her on a research trip to Portugal that “women work less after having a baby”.
The woman’s research was put on temporary hiatus by the NCRB while she was on maternity leave after having her first child.
In April 2013 the complainant informed her line manager that she was pregnant for a second time.
In July of that year funding to extend the woman’s research project was unexpectedly rejected. The line manager informed the woman that there was no funding available to pay for her pending maternity leave. The woman claimed that the precedent from her first pregnancy, where her research funding was temporarily suppressed while her maternity leave was paid from core funding , should be used. This did not happen.
On 24 September 2013 the complainant was informed that she would be made redundant on 31 October, when she would be on maternity leave, as her funding would have expired by that date.
At this time the woman was on an extended two-week leave of absence due to pregnancy-related sickness.
Six days later a fellow researcher informed the woman that her own contract had been extended by two months until the end of December 2013.
The NCRB then asked the woman on 4 October whether she wished to proceed with a revised application for funding for her research project, that which had been rejected in July 2013. The NCRB expressed a preference that the complainant compile the entire application herself, something she described as a “mammoth task” given the fact she was on maternity leave from 11 October and was in the latter stages of pregnancy.
On 8 October the woman lodged a formal complaint regarding the inequity of her colleague’s contract being renewed in circumstances that were no different to her own. She further alleged that she had been discriminated against.
She was formally made redundant on 31 December 2013.
In its defence, the NCRB denied discriminating against the woman on family and gender grounds, and expressed offence at the negative suggestions being made regarding her line manager’s character.
The board further suggested that the woman had exaggerated the amount of work that was expected of her, and that she had only produced one paper in her time working there.
The line manager was not available for examination by the tribunal.
In its decision, the Equality Tribunal found that the NCRB had failed to protect the complainant during her pregnancy and subsequent maternity leave.
It found that the NCRB had been unreasonable towards the woman and that the board had failed to rebut the accusation of discriminatory dismissal on grounds of gender and family that had been made against it.
The tribunal likewise found that undue pressure had been placed on the woman to apply for research funding at a time when she was suffering from pregnancy-related sickness and was also in an advanced state of pregnancy, and that this constituted adverse treatment.
Consequently, in finding against the NCRB in its decision, the tribunal awarded the complainant €35,138 (the equivalent of nine months’ salary) together with €11,712 in compensation for the distress caused by her victimisation, a total of €46,850.
The full decision taken by the tribunal can be read here