Female groom loses discriminatory dismissal action against Joseph O’Brien’s stables

WRC says evidence ‘was overwhelmingly that no dismissal ever took place’ of pregnant stable-rider

A former groom and stable-rider at the one of the country’s best known horse-racing trainers’s stables has lost her discriminatory dismissal action against his Carriganog training stables operation.

At the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), Emilie Coudret claimed she lost her job at the Co Kilkenny stable operation due to pregnancy.

However, in a comprehensive ruling in favour of Joseph O’Brien’s Carriganog Racing Ltd, WRC Adjudicator, Michael McEntee concluded that Ms Coudret’s complaint of discriminatory dismissal in January 2020 under the Employment Equality Acts “is not well founded”.

Son of trainer, Aidan O’Brien, Joseph O’Brien is only 28 but has already had a stellar career in racing as a jockey and trainer.Mr O’Brien operates his training stables at Piltown, Co Kilkenny andin 2020 it recorded post tax profits of €683,994 and employed 145.

In the WRC ruling, Mr McEntee found that it was hard to see a legal prima facie case of gender or pregnancy discrimination or conditions of employment being made by Ms Coudret.

Mr McEntee stated that the evidence “was overwhelmingly that no dismissal ever took place”. He oncluded that “accordingly, a complaint for discriminatory dismissal cannot have a sound basis”.

He stated that in her oral testimony Ms Coudret “had effectively accepted this was the case”. Mr McEntee said Ms Coudret’s main complaint at hearing and stated desired outcome was one of seeking some form of compensation for the distress and hardship caused by a payroll error and non-reply to emails in 2019.

It was accepted by all parties that Ms Coudret had suffered as a result of a payroll and revenue systems error, Mr McEntee said. “This was resolved once discovered and all entitlements properly paid. This was not good administration but not an act of discrimination.”

Mr McEntee saidthe payroll error “was grievous and very upsetting to the complainant, but it was hard to see how it was legally discriminatory on the ground of her gender or pregnancy”.

As part of her claim, Ms Coudret contended her employment had been ended on January 30th 2019 when she had been asked to leave the stables on health and safety grounds arising from her pregnancy.

Later on, the 29th April 2019 the Department of Social Protection refused Ms Coudret maternity leave allowance and demanded repayment of the health and safety leave payments on the grounds that Ms Coudret was not a qualifying employee .

Ms Coudret argued her job had been terminated on the January 30th 2019 according to Revenue records and during this mid-summer period, coinciding with the birth of her son, Ms Coudret experienced considerable financial hardship.

However, when the January payroll error was identified, the correct maternity leave payments were made and the demand for a refund of protective leave payments was withdrawn.

In response, Carriganog Racing argued that Ms Coudret had never been dismissed and all other contentions of discriminatory treatment lacked any prima facie basis.

The stables stated that in keeping industry practice lgrooms/riders are placed on protective leave during their pregnancy, as the risk of being seriously kicked by a horse is very high.

The stables stated that Ms Coudret was placed on health and safety leave in late January and as far as the stables was concerned all was normal.

Carriganog stated that detailed letters were sent on September 26th 2019 and October 9th to Ms Coudret apologising for the error and confirming she was still an employee, had always been one and suggesting that she withdraw her complaint.The stables stated that it sought clarification of the date of Ms Coudret’s return to work.

Ms Coudret wrote on January 9th 2020 formally tendering her resignation. Carriganog pointed to what they stated was the “irrefutable fact” that Ms Coudret had never been dismissed.

The stables stated that there was no way the payroll errorcould be made out to be a major or any grounds for a discrimination complaint.