Firm ordered to pay €40,000 to woman for discriminatory dismissal

WRC rules firm discriminated against woman on grounds of pregnancy under Act

In February 2020, Joanna Sandhu told her bosses that she was pregnant and in May 2020 she was dismissed as Covid-19 impacted the business. File photograph: iStock

In February 2020, Joanna Sandhu told her bosses that she was pregnant and in May 2020 she was dismissed as Covid-19 impacted the business. File photograph: iStock

 

A cloud-based software company that wished a pregnant woman “well” when dismissing her during the first Covid-19 lockdown has been ordered to pay €40,000 compensation for her discriminatory dismissal.

Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) adjudicator Janet Hughes ordered Dublin based Alkimii Ltd to pay Joanna Sandhu, who had been an operations manager on the company’s installation team, for discriminating against her on the grounds of pregnancy under the Employment Equality Act.

In February 2020, Ms Sandhu told her bosses that she was pregnant. In May 2020, she was dismissed as Covid-19 impacted the business.

“Wishing a pregnant woman ‘well’ when dismissing her at a time when unemployment was rampant, and the country was largely in lockdown, including the industry to which she was attached, was perfunctory to say the least,” Ms Hughes wrote.

She said there were no exceptional circumstances in place in May to allow the company rely on the “exceptional circumstance” defence under the relevant legislation.

The employer failed to meet the test required of providing the actual grounds for Ms Sandhu’s dismissal, failed to meet the requirement to provide substantial grounds or exceptional grounds to a pregnant employee and failed to provide an appeal process, Ms Hughes said.

Dismissal letter

The dismissal letter to Ms Sandhu stated: “Unfortunately, the expected level of trade throughout the year for our business is now challenged due to the Covid-19 crisis. I am sorry to have to inform that we have no alternative but to make you redundant.”

Ms Sandhu’s solicitor Richard Grogan said that, of the 20 employees, only two were made redundant. 

The company’s products are designed for the hotel industry and it told the WRC it “hit the rocks” from March 13th, 2020, with income falling from €64,000 per month to €19,000, with payroll remaining at €100,000 per month.

The company argued the situation was exceptional, which was why Ms Sandhu was made redundant in anticipation of a situation where there would not be any work.

The company argued Ms Sandhu had not established that her pregnancy was a determining factor in her selection for redundancy. 

Speaking on the case’s outcome, Mr Grogan said pregnancy-related dismissals “are an egregious and abhorrent breach of employment law rights. There are specific protections in place to protect pregnant women and women on maternity leave.”