A recent decision of the Labour Court makes for worthwhile reading for both employers and employees.
In Wrights of Howth Seafood Bars Limited & Dorota Murat the Workplace Relations Commission found that the complainant was discriminatorily dismissed from her position as manager of one of the respondent’s stores, and awarded Ms. Murat €30,000 in compensation. The employer appealed the matter to the Labour Court. The Labour Court undertook a thorough review of the law.
It was again affirmed that dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy is discriminatory and can never be justified. Disruption or cost to a business of accommodating pregnancy are ‘wholly irrelevant’ under EU law. The Court noted that where a pregnant woman is dismissed an inference arises that the dismissal is as a result of the employee’s pregnancy. Article 33.2 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union which provides for protection from dismissal connected with maternity and for the right to paid maternity/paternity leave was referenced by the Court. The key piece of legislation – The Pregnancy Directive – was also analysed. Article 10 of the Directive provides that there is an obligation on EU Member States to prohibit the dismissal of workers from the beginning of their pregnancy to the end of their maternity leave.
However, the Court noted that Article 10 includes provision for exceptions to be made in ‘exceptional cases’ where the employer ‘cites duly substantiated grounds for dismissal in writing’. The Court then stated that once the complainant proves the facts from which discrimination can be inferred (i.e. pregnancy at the time of dismissal) then the onus is on the respondent to prove that the pregnancy was nothing more than ‘a trivial influence in the impugned decision’. In assessing the facts of the matter the Court found that the respondent was not able to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that there was no discriminatory element whatsoever in the decision to dismiss the complainant. This is sufficient to entitle the complainant to compensation. Employers would do well to bear this standard in mind where the position of a pregnant employee is under consideration.
The Court criticised the employer for failing to adhere to its own disciplinary procedures in dismissing the complainant. No warning was given to the complainant who was dismissed during a brief meeting and was not afforded the opportunity to make representations on her own behalf. Contrary to Article 10 no substantial grounds for the dismissal were provided in writing. Perhaps surprisingly (considering the critical nature of its findings) the Court found that while the complainant was entitled to succeed the decision of the Adjudicating Officer of the WRC should be varied and the award of compensation halved to €15,000. It would appear the Court was satisfied to order the reduction having found the dismissal was ‘tainted with discrimination’ rather that grounded entirely in discrimination.
The decision is worthwhile reading as it provides a detailed analysis of the law in the area in Ireland (and the application of the law) offering much food for thought for all those dealing with similar situations.
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