Equality Authority welcomes doubling of compensation to a pregnant worker by the Labour Court on appeal

The Equality Authority welcomes an important decision on appeal by the Labour Court to double the original compensation awarded to a worker. The Labour Court found that Regina Cruise was discriminated against and was subject to harassment because she was pregnant. In its determination (EDA1023) in Nail Zone Ltd and a Worker, the worker was represented by the Equality Authority.

‘This case is important in that it not only upholds the original decision of the Equality Officer in favour of the worker, but overturns the original conclusion on harassment and in effect doubles the compensation awarded in the original case’ stated the Equality Authority. The Labour Court has sent another clear signal that harassment on grounds of gender is not acceptable in the workplace.

Background:

This is an appeal by Nail Zone against the decision of the Equality Tribunal in a complaint by Regina Cruise under the Employment Equality Acts and a cross appeal by Ms Cruise against the decision. Ms Cruise alleged that she was subjected to discriminatory treatment, harassment and constructive discriminatory dismissal on grounds of pregnancy. The Equality Officer awarded her 10,000 euros for discriminatory treatment but did not find in her favour on the other two matters. The Labour Court has upheld the award of 10,000 euros but has also determined that Ms Cruise was the subject of harassment and awarded a further 10,000 euros in respect of the harassment. The Labour Court found that the discrimination was causally connected to Ms Cruise’s pregnancy and therefore to her gender.

There was a ‘sharp difference in the evidence’ by the Complainant and that of the respondent. The Labour Court found the Complainant’s evidence ‘credible and consistent’. The Labour Court found that the respondent was aware of the worker’s pregnancy and subsequently reclassified her as a ‘flexi-worker’ to alter her attendance pattern, which also adversely affected her entitlement to holiday pay. The Court heard that the respondent contacted the woman’s GP to enquire about her medical condition and commented that ‘every employer is obliged to respect the privacy of its employees’.

The worker was subject to verbal abuse, persistent phone calls and an abusive voicemail message while she was on sick leave for one week. The respondent subsequently was dismissive of her and refused to meet her to discuss matters of importance relating to her treatment and her conditions of employment. The worker was suffering from stress during her pregnancy.

The Court accepted that the respondent’s conduct had violated her dignity and created a hostile working environment. The respondent having received correspondence from the Equality Authority on these matters did offer to meet the worker who declined, on that basis the claim of constructive dismissal failed.

“The Equality Authority maintains its vigilance in protecting workers anti-discrimination rights. Pregnancy related discrimination continues to feature in our case files. This finding vindicates the right of workers to be free from gender related discrimination and harassment in the workplace. The doubling of the award is another strong indication that the Labour Court will vindicate workers rights to a harassment free working environment.. This is another clear signal from the Courts that harassment is a toxin that negatively impacts on a worker in any case and seriously compromises the rights of employees to a safe working environment.

“The Equality Authority has updated its Code of Practice on sexual harassment and harassment in the workplace earlier this year and has presented it to the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs for his sanction. This will resource workplaces in ensuring that proper procedures and a benchmark of respect are in place to deal with issues arising out of a pregnancy or other matters pertaining to gender discrimination and harassment in the workplace” concluded the statement.

ENDS

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