Legal executive found to have been sacked because of disability awarded €20,000

Employer had commented on weight gain and suggested she ‘looked like shite’

WRC Adjudication Officer found that the legal executive’s claim for discriminatory dismissal was  well founded. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

WRC Adjudication Officer found that the legal executive’s claim for discriminatory dismissal was well founded. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

The owner of a legal practice has been ordered to pay a legal executive suffering from a stress-related illness €20,000 compensation for her discriminatory dismissal.

The legal executive was on sick leave for stress at the time of her discriminatory dismissal in January 2019 and also suffered from depression.

Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) Adjudication Officer, Niamh O’Carroll Kelly, found that the legal executive was sacked on the grounds of her disability.

Ms O’Carroll Kelly stated that stress came within the definition of a disability due to the fact that the stress in this case was severe enough to exacerbate the woman’s pre-existing depression.

The owner of the legal practice had denied that she was aware of her employee’s stress and depression.

However, Ms O’Carroll Kelly pointed to the legal executive’s “credible evidence” concerning conversations between the two relating to the legal executive’s weight gain and the employer’s partial recollection as evidence of the employer’s knowledge of the legal executive’s medical condition.

In one instance cited, from March 2018, the lawyer was said to have brought attention a photo of herself, the legal executive and her mother dating back to the 2007 General Election campaign.

When the lawyer commented how thin the legal executive was at that time, the legal executive explained that she suffered from depression and was on medication for it and had put on weight as a result.

In response, the employer stated: “Yeah, I was thinking that, because when you came into me back in October you looked like shite.”

Four months later in July 2018, the legal executive further alleged that the two were at a restaurant when the employer asked “How did you put on so much weight when you eat feck all?” The legal executive replied, “I know, but sure I told you, it’s the tablets”.

The legal executive stated that she had several run-ins with her employer and matters worsened and the legal executive’s thought of returning to such a hostile working environment in late 2018 made her physically ill.

The woman’s GP declared her unfit to work due to “stress related illness” and recommenced she take medication used in treating anxiety and depression.

However, while on sick leave at the end of January 2019, the legal executive received a registered letter from her employer to say that the position of ‘legal executive’ was not viable and she was being made redundant.

The lawyer categorically denied that the legal executive was dismissed on discriminatory grounds.

However, Ms O’Carroll Kelly found that the legal executive’s claim for discriminatory dismissal to be well founded.

Ms O’Carroll Kelly stated that whether the employer’s decision “was conscious or subconscious, there is clearly a nexus between the decision, receipt of the medical certificates, her pre-existing knowledge of her depression and the dismissal”.

Ms O’Carroll Kelly stated that the legal executive was denied the right of appeal against the decision to make her redundant.

Ms O’Carroll Kelly also ordered the employer to pay the legal executive €2,152 for a separate workplace breach.