18 January 2018

Retailer who told Pregnant Employee to ‘Look Better and Appear Happy’

Retailer who told Pregnant Employee to ‘Look Better and Appear Happy’ Ordered to Pay her €18,000 in Discrimination Case

A Co. Kildare shop owner who reprimanded a pregnant employee about her appearance and told her that she needed to appear happy and look better has been ordered by the Labour Court to pay €18,000 in a pregnancy discrimination case.

This sum results from the Court’s finding that Kildare town-based Clelands Supermarkets Ltd must pay the affected woman, Karolina Poslajko, €12,000 for gender discrimination and an additional €6,000 for victimisation.

The case originally appeared before the Labour Court after Clelands appealed a ruling by an equality officer who found that Ms. Poslajko had been discriminated against.

The Labour Court not only upheld the equality officer’s ruling but tripled the initial €6,000 award to a sum of €18,000 and additionally found that Ms. Poslajko had been victimised.

Ms. Poslajko told the Court that her second pregnancy had been confirmed in August 2014 and that she had advised her supervisor at Clelands and had left a GP’s letter in the office to confirm this.

Several weeks later, the owner of Clelands asked Ms. Poslajko to come to his office, where he proceeded to reprimand her for allegedly making mistakes and instructed her to work harder.

Poslajko told the Court that at this time she had been suffering from morning sickness and had often felt uncomfortable sitting at the till.

A number of weeks after the initial meeting, the owner of the supermarket called Ms. Poslajko to his office again and informed her that her weekly hours were to be reduced from 39 to 24 a week because she was, in his opinion, not working as hard as her colleagues.

Additionally, Ms. Poslajko said that the owner had further reprimanded her about her appearance and had told her that she needed to look better and appear happy.

In March 2015, Ms. Poslajko went on maternity leave. Her solicitors contacted Clelands in July of that year, where they advised that Ms. Poslajko believed that the reductions to her working hours which the shop had made related directly to her pregnancy and, therefore, constituted direct discrimination on the grounds of gender.

In October 2015, upon returning to work, Ms. Poslajko was informed by the owner that her hours were being further reduced to eight per week because the business was not performing.

Despite the owner’s reasoning behind this cut, Ms. Poslajko told the Court that other part-time employees were getting more than eight hours per week at this time.

Ms. Poslajko told the Court that eight hours were not enough to support her family. As a result, she decided to find alternative employment and resigned from Clelands in March 2016.

In his defence, the owener told the hearing that he had been unaware of Ms. Poslajko’s pregnancy before November 2014 and, therefore, any disciplinary action or reduction in her working hours which took place prior to that are unrelated to the pregnancy.

Additionally, he told the Court that he had never seen the GP’s letter.

In its determination, the Labour Court found Ms. Poslajko’s evidence to be credible and coherent.

The Court additionally found that it was not credible for the owner to claim that he was unaware of her pregnancy for several months after August 2014 and that he had never seen the letter from the GP.

The Court found that Clelands had not produced any documentary evidence that showed that it had engaged in a bona fide disciplinary process to address the the alleged underperformance of Ms. Poslajko.

It held that she had made a prima facie case that the original reduction in her working hours was a consequence of her pregnancy and that Clelands had failed to adduce any evidence that rebuts the claim advanced by Ms. Poslajko.

Moran and Ryan has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including in the areas of discrimination and victimisation. If you have been affected by any of the above issues, please contact our office to arrange for a consultation.