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victimisation Vehicle rental firm pays out €90k to manager for discrimination based on pregnancy

'Discrimination against a worker due to pregnancy is a particularly egregious breach of the Acts'

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The Workplace Relations Commission in Lansdowne House in Dublin

The Workplace Relations Commission in Lansdowne House in Dublin

The Workplace Relations Commission in Lansdowne House in Dublin

A County Kilkenny vehicle and equipment rental firm has been ordered to pay out €90,000 to a General Manager for discrimination due to pregnancy and victimisation.

In the case before the Labour Court, deputy chairman, Tom Geraghty has ordered Holden Plant Rentals Ltd to pay Sinead Vereker €70,000 for discrimination due to pregnancy and an additional €20,000 for victimising Ms Vereker under the Employment Equality Act.

Company owner, Paul Holden described Ms Vereker to the Labour Court as “brilliant” and was the "heartbeat of the company".

The case came before the Labour Court after Holden Plant Rentals Ltd had appealed against two Workplace Relation Commission (WRC) decisions and awards totalling a combined €61,000 to Ms Vereker - a €53,000 award for discrimination due to pregnancy and an €8,000 award for victimisation.

Ms Vereker appealed the quantum of the WRC awards in each case to the Labour Court.

In making the €70,000 award, Mr Geraghty said that “discrimination against a worker due to pregnancy is a particularly egregious breach of the Acts”.

Mr Geraghty said that while the actions of Holden Plant Rentals Ltd did not lead to a dismissal “there is no doubt that they damaged the relationship between the parties and undermined the confidence of the Complainant in her employer”.

He stated: “This, in turn, triggered a series of events that culminated in the ultimate rupture of that relationship.”

Mr Geraghty stated that while this may not have justified Ms Vereker’s resignation, undeniably, it caused her great distress and damaged the working relationship.

He stated that the fact that the discrimination happened during Ms Vereker’s maternity leave “is a cause for particular concern, which must be reflected in the level of compensation”.

The Labour Court upheld Ms Vereker’s discrimination due to pregnancy claim after hearing evidence from Ms Vereker that while she was on maternity leave, the firm created a position, for which she was not given a chance to apply, that was a superior position in the employment to the one held by her.

Ms Vereker stated that she was expected to report to the appointee, that she was, effectively, down-graded.

The court did not uphold Ms Vereker’s claims for harassment or discriminatory dismissal.

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The company provides vehicles and equipment to Government Departments, agencies and local authorities and also provides fleet management for some Government bodies.

Ms Vereker had been employed with the company since 1995 and owner of the firm, Paul Holden, told the Labour Court that Ms Vereker “was the company”.

Mr Holden said that there were close family connections with Ms Vereker where she had baby-sat his children and worked in his wife’s shop when she was in school before joining the firm when she was young.

Ms Vereker gave birth to her 4th child in December 2016 and returned from maternity leave in September 2017.

After a number of alleged incidents, six days after her return to work, Mr Vereker went on sick leave.

Ms Vereker lodged a grievance which was not upheld and after mediation failed to resolve the matter, Ms Vereker resigned her employment in February 2018 and described the sequence of events around the discrimination and victimisation as the worst thing that had happened to her in her life.

She was paid an annual salary of €70,000 plus bonuses and was supplied with a company car and mobile telephone.

Ms Vereker - represented by Lars Asmussen BL, instructed by Sean Ormonde Solicitors - told the court that on learning of her being pregnant with her fourth children, Mr Holden allegedly remarked “I thought I was out of the woods with you”.

At the time Ms Vereker took this to be in jest but in time she saw more intent in the words.

Mr Geraghty said that the Court is inclined to accept at face value that the comment made was by way of light banter, not least because no exception was taken to it at the time by Ms Vereker.

In her evidence Ms Vereker stated that she had taken no more than a few weeks off during her first two periods of maternity leave.

On her third maternity leave, Ms Vereker took six months’ maternity leave but had taken telephone calls every day throughout her leave.

Ms Vereker stated that she and Mr Holden prior to her going out on maternity leave for her fourth child had an excellent and close business and personal relationship.

Ms Vereker stated that they were friends and they had total trust in each other.

However, Ms Vereker alleged that Mr Holden’s attitude to her after she returned from maternity leave had changed and this left her very distressed as there were huge personal and family connections.

Concerning her victimisation claim, Ms Vereker stated that her company Mercedes car was taken for a winter check in November 2017 and she was given “a lesser quality Renault car” as a replacement. The Mercedes was never returned to Ms Vereker. Mr Holden denied that the Mercedes was taken for a winter check due to the complaint Ms Vereker had made.

Ms Vereker also stated that her company phone was cut off on February 8th 2018 the day after attempts at mediation had broken down. Ms Vereker had used the number for 25 years.

AS part of a 19,700 word determination, Mr Geraghty stated that on the balance of probabilities, there is an excess of coincidences, such as to lead to the conclusion that the issues with Ms Vereker’s car and telephone arose because she had made a complaint.

Mr Geraghty stated: "The victimisation of a worker for raising a complaint is a very serious matter as the Acts set out rights which all workers are entitled to seek to have upheld without the fear that by so doing they could be exposed to penalisation by their employer.”

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