Female barrister wins gender pay case against Centz discount retailer

WRC found gender-based pay discrimination in company where male solicitor earned up to €27,500-a-year more than complainant

Discount retailer Centz has been ordered to pay almost €77,000 to a former in-house counsel who claimed she was left “chasing the roadrunner” as she tried to close a gender pay gap on its legal team – but ended up resigning because of how she was treated.

The former employee, Sarah Treacy, has secured findings of gender and disability discrimination, along with non-payment of wages and constructive dismissal, against Centz Retail Holdings Ltd.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) made the findings after the company’s managing director Naeem Maniar – the Kildare-based businessman who also operated the Republic of Ireland franchise for supermarket chain Iceland up to its liquidation in early 2023 – failed to come and give evidence on the second day of hearing as his legal team originally planned.

Ms Treacy, a qualified barrister, told the tribunal her pro-rata annual salary was lower than that of a male solicitor in the legal department, Mr X, at various periods in 2020 and 2021 – a matter she had raised with Mr Maniar, the tribunal was told.


The company committed to address this and increase Ms Treacy’s salary to €75,000 from July 1st, 2021, but the increase was delayed to October, 1st.

As well as the pay equality complaint, Ms Treacy also claimed the firm failed to accommodate her when she was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in June, 2021. She had asked for flexibility to work from home to avoid distractions in the office but was refused, the WRC noted. The company instead proposed she work from the firm’s cash office which she called “entirely unsuitable”.

Ms Treacy’s case was that in addition to denying her reasonable accommodation and equal pay, she was exposed to “a pattern of bullying and harassment” and subsequent penalisation for raising concerns about these issues with no “meaningful grievance process” employed by the firm.

It included assigning the investigation of her grievance to a subordinate of Mr Maniar, so that there was “no reasonable prospect of an independent assessment of the issues under consideration”, it was submitted.

The investigation was “superficial” and made a “casual acceptance” of Mr Maniar’s version of events, making it an unfair process, Ms Treacy told the WRC, leaving her with no option other than to resign over her employer’s conduct.

While the complainant argued she and Mr X worked “interchangeably” and had “equivalent legal qualifications, the company disputed they did “like work”.

Her barrister, Darach MacNamara, said his client was left “chasing the roadrunner down the road” on the gender pay gap issue, submitting that when his client received a pay rise after highlighting a salary differential, the male solicitor also got an increase in pay.

The timing of a pay rise given to Mr X was in dispute. The Centz HR director Carol McCartney stated in evidence that Mr X’s pay was only increased from €85,000 to €92,000 after Ms Treacy’s resignation.

Company solicitor Ian McKenna told the tribunal that Mr Maniar was “unavailable” as he was “involved in a fast-paced business” and had “other commitments” on the date of a hearing last September.

However, the complainant’s barrister, Darach MacNamara, said the retailer’s lawyers previously made it clear Mr Maniar would testify to the accuracy of a chart presented to the tribunal setting out the pay rates and workload for Centz’s in-house legal team.

The company’s position was that the rate of pay for Mr X was “based on his level of qualification and previous experience” and that he was not performing “like work”.

Mr MacNamara told adjudicator Breiffni O’Neill this document was a “fallacy” created by Mr Maniar to “pull the wool over your eyes” on the equal pay claim.

In his decision, Mr O’Neill wrote that the way Mr Maniar treated Ms Treacy in her last months of employment “was sufficiently intolerable as to constitute a significant breach of the employment contract”.

He added that Ms Treacy’s “compelling and direct” evidence of how her grievance investigation was handled had to be preferred over the company’s failure to put relevant witnesses into evidence.

Ms Treacy met the legal standard for constructive dismissal, but fell short on demonstrating her efforts to mitigate loss by finding new employment, Mr O’Neill wrote, awarding her €15,000 under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977.

Mr O’Neill upheld both of Ms Treacy’s discrimination complaints. He ordered the firm to pay her €5,000 for a breach of the Employment Equality Act 1998, ruling that Centz failed to make reasonable accommodation for her ADHD diagnosis in her working arrangements.

He also found there was gender-based pay discrimination in the company, with Mr X earning at a rate of up to €27,500-a-year more than Ms Treacy at times.

Mr O’Neill awarded compensation for this second breach of the employment equality legislation at €55,000. In fixing compensation, he wrote that he had to consider the financial losses Ms Treacy suffered, the “emotional distress” of the situation, and case law requiring awards for a breach of her rights under an EU directive to be “effective, proportionate and dissuasive”.

The adjudicator also found Ms Treacy was underpaid by €1,695.55 between July and December 2021 based on her actual contractual pay at the time, and was also left short one day’s holidays, worth €288.46 and made an order against the company under the Payment of Wages Act 1991.

However, Mr O’Neill rejected Ms Treacy’s penalisation complaint.

The total awarded to Ms Treacy in the case was €76,984.01.

  • See our new project Common Ground, Evolving Islands: Ireland & Britain
  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here