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Tribunal

Worker awarded €80k for being told her job no longer existed after maternity leave

The Equality Tribunal said Lisa Mullen was subjected to a “range of unlawful treatment and comments” by her employer.

Updated 22.30pm

A FORMER EMPLOYEE of BCon Communications Ltd has been awarded €80,000 from the Equality Tribunal on the grounds of “harassment” and “discriminatory treatment” after she found her role and pay had been demoted after she took maternity leave.

Lisa Mullen, a financial controller with the company, told her employer that she was pregnant in November 2009 with her third child.

On informing her employer, “Mr W” of her pregnancy, she alleges that he said: “Jesus Lisa, you don’t hang around”.

Miscarriage

Mullen already had two other children and had suffered a miscarriage in July 2009.

She states that her employer, Mr. W, knew of this and she said she was extremely upset by this remark particularly in the light of her recent miscarriage.

Mr. E, the employer’s younger brother, who was present during the conversation told Mullen that what Mr. W had said to her “was a horrible comment to make”.

It was submitted on behalf of Mullen that the comment made amounts to less favourable treatment and harassment of Mullen on grounds of gender and family status contrary to the Acts.

Two weeks after Mullen’s employer made the comment, she said she heard him in conversation with some clients in his office.

She said that she had a good relationship with her clients and they were aware that she had had a miscarriage earlier that year.

Mullen stated that she had told them that she was pregnant again.

In the conversation she alleges she heard Mr W say loudly:

Yes and to be honest lads I am not too happy about this. She was meant to stop after her first two and now I have been informed that she is having a third.

Mullen alleged the clients were shocked by this statement and one of them said to him “[Mr. W] you can’t say that, Lisa could take you to court for discrimination”. Mullen added that when she tried to raise the matter with Mr. W later but he was dismissive of her and would not talk about it.

Maternity leave

When it came to hiring someone to replace Mullen while she was out on maternity leave, she was involved in the interview process. She said that during the interview process the duration of the contract was raised and Mr W said to the interviewee:

… well I’m not sure if Lisa will be coming back to work especially now she will have three children to look after.

The complainant states that she was shocked by this comment as she had never done or said anything which might lead Mr. W to this conclusion and she took issue with him when the interview finished.

She added that Mr. W said he had assumed if he had three children she would not want to return to work. Mullen states that she made it perfectly clear to Mr. W it was both undesirable from a personal and professional point of view and impossible from a financial perspective, that she not continue work and informed him that she would be returning.

When her maternity leave was up, Mullen said she was informed by Mr W that the role of Financial Controller no longer existed in its previous format within the new company structure and was redundant and offered the complainant an alternative position which involved an additional eight hours work per week, a 40 per cent cut in her salary and a more junior and less responsible position in Accounts Receivable.

Unacceptable

She refused the position offered and the company agreed to restore her pre-maternity leave hours and terms and conditions, but would not restore her title or role. She said she refused this offer and the company said it was treating this refusal as a resignation.

The equality officer said in reference to the passing of comments made when Mr W was informed of Mullen’s pregnancy, that he found Mullen to be a “credible and truthful witness who gave her evidence in a forthright manner, sometimes to her own possible detriment, and I fully accept her evidence on this matter”.

They added that in light of the recent miscarriage he found that Mr. W’s comment “demonstrates a profound insensitivity to the complainant’s experience of miscarrying some months before but I am not satisfied that it amounts, on its own, to unlawful harassment of her on either gender or family status contrary to the Acts”.

Gender and family status

The equality officer also said in terms of the comments made to clients about Mullen’s pregnancy that he was satisfied that this comment amounted to harassment of the complainant “on grounds of gender and family status as it had the effect of creating and offensive, humiliating and degrading environment for her in terms of her pregnancy and the fact she had children at the time”.

In terms of the change in roles after her maternity leave, the equality officer said he was satisfied that the revised role was indeed a demotion.

The equality officer added that the Mullen was subjected to a “range of unlawful treatment and comments which intensified after she informed the respondent of her pregnancy in November, 2009″.

The tribunal ordered the company to pay Mullen €80,000 by way of “compensation for the distress suffered by her as a consequence of the discrimination”.

First published 18.28pm

Read: Ex ‘Price is Right’ model gets $8.5 million in damages>

Read: Fathers should be allowed to share in mother’s maternity leave – Seanad>

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