Legal expert highlights 'abhorrent treatment' of pregnant women as €93k paid out in three dismissal cases

Pregnancy-related dismissals are "endemic" in workplaces here and there are some larger employers who believe they can steamroll over the rights of pregnant employees, according to employment law expert, Richard Grogan.

Mr Grogan was commenting after the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) ordered a retailer here to pay a 20-year-old customer assistant pregnant with her first child €15,229 - or 15 months pay - for discriminating against her because she was pregnant.

Mr Grogan represented the woman in the case and she told her boss that she was pregnant in late February-early March last year and she was dismissed on May 13, 2019, when she informed that she was unsuited to the retailer’s requirements and that the appointment was not successful.

WRC Adjudication Officer, Jim Dolan found that the retailer had not discharged the burden on it to show that the dismissal was for exceptional reasons unconnected with the woman’s pregnancy.

The retailer had put forward the argument that the discrimination complaint was manifestly “frivolous” or “misconceived” but Mr Dolan stated that the discrimination case was neither “frivolous” or “misconceived”.

The ruling against the unnamed retailer is one of three WRC rulings in recent days where the Commission has awarded cumulative awards to three women for pregnancy-related dismissals amounting to €93,829.

In another case, WRC Adjudication Officer, Caroline McEnery has ordered restaurant company, Petit Delice Ltd, to pay pastry chef, Jessica Padayachee €33,600 for her pregnancy-related dismissal.

Ms Padayachee was suffering from morning sickness due to her pregnancy and she was unable to attend work fully as a result.

She was in employment for only six weeks in total.

Ms McEnery said that she appreciated that Petit Delice Ltd may not have intended to discriminate against Ms Padayachee but this was the net effect of their actions and what flowed from it.

Ms McEnery said that a discriminatory dismissal occurred due to her pregnancy.

In the third case, WRC Adjudication Officer, Marguerite Buckley has ordered Sean Loughnane Galway Ltd trading as Rudd's Fine Foods to pay Inga Dainauskiene €40,000 for her pregnancy-related dismissal.

Ms Buckley stated that for Sean Loughnane Galway Ltd, which had a turnover of €40m, to unilaterally demote Ms Dainauskiene to the factory floor with a large reduction in salary and a six-month probationary period on her return from maternity leave was “extremely hurtful”.

Mr Grogan said that the published figures concerning pregnancy-related dismissals are distorted as most employers settle claims brought against them.

Speaking generally, Mr Grogan added: “Pregnant workers are particularly vulnerable. There are some larger employers who believe they can steamroll over their rights.

The abhorrent treatment accorded to pregnant women in some workplaces has no place in a civilised society.

Commenting on the pregnancy discrimination case he took against the retailer for his 20-year-old client, Mr Grogan said: “The attempt by some employers, and this employer in particular, to attempt to justify the dismissal on the most spurious of grounds is in my opinion reprehensible.

“No company procedures were followed in dismissing this 20-year-old vulnerable employee. The attempt to categorise her complaint as 'frivolous and misconceived' showed a complete lack of empathy with her condition of being pregnant and worse an attempt to justify the unjustifiable treatment with appalling disregard for her protections under Irish and EU law.

“It is important that the Adjudication Officer specifically rejected, for the record, that the claim was either frivolous or misconceived.”

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