Telco must pay €55,000 to director laid off while pregnant

Workplace Relations Commmission finds firm discriminated against former director

The former telecoms employee argued that her obvious early ‘bump’ would have been seen by the decision makers during October last year.

The former telecoms employee argued that her obvious early ‘bump’ would have been seen by the decision makers during October last year.

 

A telecoms company has been ordered to pay €55,000 to a former director of marketing over making her redundant when she was five months pregnant.

Workplace Relations Commission adjudication officer Michael McEntee found that the company had discriminated against the ex-director on the grounds of pregnancy.

The director was one of 18 staff to be made redundant on November 14th last in Britain and Ireland after the chief executive of the Irish unit was ordered to find €10 million in cuts.

The marketing director formally had notified her employer on November 1st last that she was pregnant.

The telecom and electronic communications infrastructure support company contested the discrimination claim and in evidence, the company’s chief executive said he did not have the “bandwidth” to be concerned regarding the pregnancy of a single employee when the entire business was at stake.

The company said the decision to make the marketing director redundant was made before November 1st, when she formally notified the company that she was pregnant.

The chief executive said he was quite simply not aware of the pregnancy when the decision was made and it certainly had not been a factor in the redundancy.

However, the ex-marketing director contested this saying that while the formal notification was made on November 1st she was by this stage 20 weeks pregnant and clearly “showing”.

She contended that it was not so large an organisation that her obvious early “bump” would not have been seen by the decision makers during October.

The company was in financial turmoil and the chief executive said he had he had closeted himself in a boardroom for most of October last and made the business and redundancy selections – not primarily people but functions.

Eighteen employees

The chief executive said 18 employees across Britain and Ireland had been made redundant – 13 men and five women. He said this gender mix more than rebutted any suggestion of the alleged discrimination on gender or pregnancy grounds.

In his findings, Mr McEntee said that he found the chief executive to be a very credible witness but found that the company had not sufficiently established that there was no link to the marketing director’s pregnancy in her inclusion on the staff-exit list.

Mr McEntee said the “ceo was quite clearly under considerable pressure to keep the company afloat, but this is not an acceptable excuse in a pregnancy discrimination case”.

He said that in weighing the evidence, the fact that the complainant was highly paid employee at €94,000 per annum and the company had a very good and expensive maternity leave scheme in place “could not, in my view be completely ignored. She would have been a considerable overhead to be carried in a period of radical financial retrenchment,” he noted.

Mr McEntee stated that in a pregnancy discrimination situation “a very detailed case must be made to the complainant to justify an ending of employment. Quite frankly this did not happen and quite possibly for reasons allied to the pressure the ceo was under.”

He added: “However, the legal position is clear cut and accordingly the case for discrimination on pregnancy grounds must stand.”

Unconvinced

Mr McEntee said he was not convinced that the steering committee and the chief executive were completely unaware or indifferent to the overhead costs situation likely to arise from a period of extended maternity leave.

In making the award, Mr McEntee ordered the company to pay the ex-director €50,000 for the pregnancy discrimination and said this award was not related to the statutory redundancy payment already paid to her.

Mr McEntee also ordered the company to pay the ex-director €5,000 compensation for the distress and upset caused in relation to the difficulties she experienced in qualifying for statutory maternity leave as a result of the date of the discriminatory redundancy.