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Company ordered to pay €61,000 to woman who was 'discriminated against due to pregnancy'

The general manager was effectively demoted after returning from maternity leave.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/Syda Productions

A RENTAL COMPANY has been ordered to pay €61,100 to a general manager after she found herself to be effectively demoted to general operative after returning from maternity leave.

At the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), adjudication officer James Kelly ordered the unnamed business to pay the worker €53,000 after finding that she was discriminated against on the grounds of pregnancy.

Kelly ordered the firm to pay the woman an additional €8,000 after finding she was victimised by her employer under the Employment Equality Act.

The WRC also ordered the employer to pay the woman €100 for a breach of the Terms of Employment (Information) Act.

In the case, the woman gave birth to her fourth child in December 2016. On her return from maternity leave in September 2017, the woman felt that she had been effectively demoted.

In his findings, Kelly stated: “I am satisfied that the picture she paints is not one of General Manager, and more of general operative. Her role has diminished and how she is spoken to is blunt and unacceptable manner in this work environment.”

I accept her evidence that her role had changed, and her tasks and responsibilities were reduced from her pre-maternity status.

The woman resigned from her post in March 2018 and she failed in a separate claim of constructive dismissal against the company.

The company told the hearing that the woman was the most senior member of staff who had presided over significant growth within the business and at all times completed her duties to a high standard.

The woman was on an annual salary of €70,000 and had the use of a work car and work mobile phone.

In her evidence to the WRC, the woman stated that on her return to work in September 2017, the owner told her that “there was big changes around here” and that another female employee will have a role to “oversee everyone’s work”.

The woman told the hearing she was shocked that on her first day back to work she was ambushed and effectively told that her role would be diminishing, and she would be de facto demoted, which she claims amounted to discriminatory treatment.

‘Do whatever you like’

At work on 8 September 2017, the woman said she felt she was not wanted and not welcome back in the workplace after the owner allegedly told her in an exchange, ‘I don’t care what you do, do whatever you like.’

The worker maintained that the treatment she was subjected to on her return to work was motivated by the fact that she availed of her statutory right to additional maternity leave, and was de facto demoted and forced out of her job.

On 12 September 2017, she commenced a period of medically-certified unpaid sick leave due to work-related stress and she remained on sick leave until her resignation.

In his evidence, the owner of the company denied saying anything that did not make the complainant feel welcome on her return to work or that undermined her role.

The owner strongly denied the woman’s allegations.

He stated that she was an integral part of the growth of the company and was considered to be all but irreplaceable. Her absence and ultimate resignation from the company caused enormous operational difficulties, he said. 

In February 2018, the owner wrote to the complainant’s solicitors to state that he had worked with the employee for 22 years and always had a good working relationship with her. 

He stated: “I sincerely wish to encourage her to return to work within the group. Naturally in any working relationship there can be ebbs and flows in a busy working environment but after 22 years I have to believe that her grievances can be resolved and that we can continue our own direct long-standing working relationship between her and the company, with mutual trust and confidence.”

Kelly found that the worker was victimised by her employer removing her company mobile phone which she had used for a number of years.

He stated that “removing her work mobile phone from her without prior notice was a detriment”, adding: “It caused her stress and anxiety as she was not contactable as a mother of young children.”

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Gordon Deegan

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