Pub group arranged underage drink order that led to worker’s dismissal, Labour Court told

At time of incident, bar worker had taken two claims against Louis Fitzgerald group

Carroll’s Gastro Pub in Lucan, Co Dublin

Carroll’s Gastro Pub in Lucan, Co Dublin

 

Louis Fitzgerald’s pub group paid a private investigator to arrange for a 17-year-old to buy alcohol in one of its bars in a move that led to the dismissal of one of its workers, Labour Court documents show.

Blueridge Properties, one of the chain’s companies, is appealing a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) ruling that it unfairly dismissed Tracey Reilly for selling alcohol to a minor and breaching guidelines on seeking ID from any customer who appeared to be younger than 23.

Documents filed with the Labour Court by Ms Reilly’s solicitor, Harry Carpendale, state that Blueridge hired private investigator J Harrington to arrange for a 17-year-old boy to buy beer in Carroll’s Gastro Pub in Lucan, Co Dublin, in July 2019, where Ms Reilly was working.

The submission notes that it is a criminal offence for someone to arrange for a minor to buy alcohol in a pub, except in specific cases where the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2010 allows an on-duty garda to do this.

Strict guidelines, including that the minor be aged over 15 and a parent or guardian has given permission, govern how an on-duty Garda may do this. The WRC adjudication on the case does not name Mr Harrington, but describes him as a “mystery shopper” and states he is a retired garda.

It also notes that he took instructions directly from the group’s owner and that witnesses acknowledged a “close relationship” between the two.

Mr Carpendale’s submission argues that by appealing the WRC finding, the pub group is asking the Labour Court to accept that an organisation can dismiss a worker as a result of “deliberate criminal activity” on the employer’s part. “This is an obvious absurdity and is unsustainable in law,” the solicitor states.

‘Gross misconduct’

The Louis Fitzgerald group maintains that Ms Reilly was dismissed for “gross misconduct for selling alcohol to a minor, which is a criminal offence” that could result in a sanction on her personally, and leave the chain open to a fine and closure order.

When contacted, Mr Fitzgerald declined to comment on the case as it was still live with the Labour Court. A hearing scheduled for earlier this month was postponed.

According to the Labour Court papers, shortly before lunch on July 4th, 2019, the teenager and an 18-year-old woman entered Carroll’s. They ordered two bowls of soup. Ms Reilly, the only bar person on duty at that time, asked if they wanted drinks.

They ordered two bottles of Heineken, which she served to them without seeking ID, as she believed both looked over 23. A man subsequently introduced himself to Ms Reilly, said he was working for the Fitzgerald group, and told her she had served alcohol to a minor.

She was dismissed on July 12th, 2019, following a disciplinary meeting four days earlier with Michelle Cannon, group payroll accountant; Joyce Cullen, group human resources generalist; and Christina Birkby, a note-taker.

Ms Reilly maintained all through the disciplinary procedures that she had made a genuine mistake, as she believed the two customers appeared to her to be over 23.

Failed appeal

On July 31st, Ms Reilly appealed to Pat Walsh, group finance director; Nicola Burke, head office manager; and Ms Birkby. Mr Walsh wrote on August 8th to say her appeal had failed.

At the time Ms Reilly had taken separate personal injuries and General Data Protection Regulation claims against the Louis Fitzgerald group. Those lawsuits are ongoing and the pub chain is contesting both.

A week before the incident, Ms Reilly’s lawyer had written to the Louis Fitzgerald group raising the possibility of referring one of the cases to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. The WRC adjudicator said she was “uneasy” at the fact that the mystery shopper episode occurred so quickly after the solicitor’s letter arrived, but drew no inference from this.

The WRC found Ms Reilly had been unfairly dismissed on grounds of proportionality as the facts did not warrant “almost automatic” sacking for gross misconduct. The adjudicator noted that the underage policy left scope for interpretation by staff.

“The complainant was a very experienced bar trade worker and there was absolutely no evidence presented that she had wilfully or with malign intent served the underage persons such as to escalate it to a gross misconduct penalty,” the ruling stated. The commission awarded her €20,000 for unfair dismissal and four week’s pay for the lack of minimum notice.