Salon owner who allegedly told pregnant employee her 'arse is fatter' must pay €20k

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A Co Limerick hair salon owner alleged to have told an employee “I know - your arse is fatter” after being told by the employee that she was pregnant has been ordered to pay €20,000 compensation in a pregnancy discrimination case.

In the case before the Labour Court, the court has ordered Teresa Cross (Shanahan) of Croc’s Hair & Beauty of Clarina, Co Limerick pay former employee, Helen Ahern €20,000 after finding that Ms Cross treated Ms Ahern in a discriminatory manner because she was pregnant.

The award more than triples the €6,000 award made to Ms Ahern by a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) Adjudication Officer and that decision was appealed by Ms Cross and the scale of the award was appealed by Ms Ahern.

In the case before the Labour Court, Ms Cross denied that she made the ‘I know - your arse is fatter’ remark when Ms Ahern informed her that she was pregnant in February 2015.

Ms Ahern's baby was due in December 2015.

However, in her findings, Caroline Jenkinson at the Labour Court found that the evidence tendered by the two witnesses for the employer was “unsatisfactory and lacking in candour in many material respects”.

Ms Jenkinson stated that by contrast the court found that Ms Ahern “gave honest evidence to the best of her recollection”.

Ms Jenkinson stated that where there is conflict in that evidence tendered on behalf of the employer and that tendered by Ms Ahern, the court prefers the evidence tendered by Ms Ahern.

In the case, counsel for Ms Ahern, Michael Purtill BL (instructed by solicitor, Frances Twomey) contended that Ms Ahern was discriminated against on the gender ground when Ms Cross reduced her hours of work during her pregnancy and her job was advertised when she was on sick leave while pregnant.

On April 29, 2015, Ms Ahern went on pregnancy-related sick leave as she was suffering from morning sickness.

Evidence put forward on behalf of Ms Ahern alleged that on July 25, 2015 when she informed her employer that she would be returning to work from sick leave, her employer said that she was not reliable.

Ms Ahern alleged that Ms Cross told her that in any event, as she would be commencing maternity leave before Christmas she would have to be replaced and that it was too much hassle.

Ms Ahern stated that Ms Cross then offered her four hours work per day.

Mr Purtill said that Ms Ahern was at a loss of her earnings from July 2015 until she went on maternity leave in November 2015, and she could not go back to work for her employer after her maternity leave, due to the breakdown in trust.

Ms Ahern terminated her own employment at the salon on May 26, 2016.

Ms Cross denied that Ms Ahern was subjected to any form of discrimination.

She told the hearing that she has operated the salon since 2010 and has had a number of employees who were pregnant and availed of maternity leave.

Ms Cross said that at the material time of Ms Ahern’s claim, there were a number of employees out on maternity leave or on sick leave.

Ms Cross said that when Ms Ahern went on sick leave during her pregnancy, she worked around her and did what suited Ms Ahern.

Ms Cross said that on occasions she had to close the salon due to staff shortages at this time.

In her findings, Ms Jenkinson said that the court was satisfied that Ms Ahern was both fit and anxious to return to work when she attended the salon on July 25, 2015.

Ms Jenkinson said that it is not disputed that Ms Ahern was not offered her normal working hours and that instead she was offered reduced hours on her return from pregnancy related sick leave and this is verified by the text messages exchanged on July 29, 2015.

Ms Jenkinson stated that the court was satisfied that the hair salon’s efforts to seek a new employee when Ms Ahern was ready to return to work following pregnancy related illness and yet only offering her four hours, undermines the employer’s credibility.

In her ruling, Ms Jenkinson stated that the award of compensation should be increased to €20,000 for the effects of the discrimination suffered by Ms Ahern.

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