Woman wins €50,000 after being dismissed while pregnant

Workplace Relations Commission rules after council failed to renew woman’s contract

A county council has been ordered to pay €50,000 to a woman after it failed to renew her contract when she notified it that she was pregnant.  File photograph: Paul Mezzer/FRF/Getty

A county council has been ordered to pay €50,000 to a woman after it failed to renew her contract when she notified it that she was pregnant. File photograph: Paul Mezzer/FRF/Getty

 

A county council has been ordered to pay €50,000 to a woman after it failed to renew her contract when she notified it that she was pregnant.

The Workplace Relations Commission heard that the experience “felt like it was the 1970s” to the woman and there was “an aura of anti-feminism in the council”.

The commission found she was discriminatorily dismissed on the grounds of gender and awarded her compensation for the breaches of the Employment Equality Acts.

The woman, who worked in an administrative role, submitted that her fixed-term contract was not renewed in October 2012 and that this was linked to her pregnancy.

She said a male comparator’s contract was renewed but she was let go, even though they did broadly similar work.

Her role was described on the council’s organisation chart as a secondment.

The woman said that from this description she and everybody else there understood her role would continue until the man whose role she was filling returned to work for the council.

‘Anti-feminism’

In a complaint to the commission on her behalf by her trade union Impact, the woman said that although she was very happy in her work there was “an aura of anti-feminism in the council”.

She said she had been contacted “out of the blue” in 2010 by an employee welfare officer to discuss her sick leave record and that she was startled by this.

Her sick leave was minimal and far below that of many of her colleagues.

In addition, almost all of her sick leave had been certified by a doctor and most of her absences related to miscarriages and post-operative recovery.

In 2012, the woman became pregnant again but deliberately delayed announcing that she was pregnant as she had had four miscarriages in five years and she wanted to wait until the pregnancy was quite advanced.

She told her manager in July 2012 about the baby, which was due at the end of October.

The manager told her that her contract, due for expiry in October, would not be renewed, due to prevailing economic circumstances.

The woman said the manager in question also added: “The fact that you are pregnant does not help.”

Contract

He subsequently rang her to “clarify” his remarks and she said this was because he knew he should not have linked her pregnancy to the failure to renew her contract.

The county council told the commission the woman had been employed as a temporary administrative officer in the community and enterprise department on a five-year fixed-term contract, but the council had never been definitive about the renewal of the contract.

The decision not to renew it was due to budget constraints and the requirement to reduce public sector numbers, it said.

Equality officer Orlaith Mannion noted in her February 26th decision that the entire period of pregnancy and maternity leave constituted a special, protected period under EU law.

The Labour Court had also found that “only the most exceptional circumstances not connected with the condition of pregnancy allow a woman to be dismissed while pregnant”.