A SHOP OWNER who reprimanded a pregnant employee about her appearance and said that she needed to appear happy at work has been ordered to pay €18,000 in a discrimination case.
This follows the Labour Court finding that Kildare town-based Clelands Supermarkets Ltd must pay Karolina Poslajko €12,000 for gender discrimination and an additional €6,000 for victimisation.
The case came before the Labour Court after Clelands appealed a ruling by an equality officer who found that Poslajko was discriminated against.
The Labour Court not only upheld the ruling by the equality officer but tripled the initial €6,000 award to €18,000 and also found that Poslajko was victimised.
In her evidence, Poslajko said that her second pregnancy was confirmed in August 2014 and she advised her supervisor at Clelands and left a GP’s letter in the office confirming the diagnosis.
Later that month, the owner of the business called Poslajko to his office and reprimanded her for allegedly making mistakes and advised that she would have to work harder.
Poslajko told the Labour Court that she was suffering from morning sickness at the time and was often uncomfortable sitting at the check-out.
A number of weeks after that meeting, the owner again called Poslajko into the office and informed her that her weekly hours were to be cut from 39 to 24 because she was, in his view, not working as hard as other staff.
Poslajko said that the owner also reprimanded her about her appearance and said she needed to look better and appear happy.
Poslajko went on maternity leave in March 2015. Her solicitors wrote to Clelands in July advising that she believed the reductions in her hours related directly to her pregnancy and, therefore, constituted direct discrimination on the grounds of gender.
On returning to work in October 2015, the owner informed Poslajko that her hours were being reduced again and that she would only have eight hours’ work per week because the business was not performing well.
Poslajko told the court that other part-time employees were getting more than eight hours per week at the time.
She said that amount of work wasn’t enough to support her family and she got alternative employment and resigned from Clelands in March 2016.
In his defence, the owner told the hearing that he was unaware of Poslajko’s pregnancy before November 2014 and, therefore, any disciplinary action or reduction in her hours which took place prior to that are unrelated to the pregnancy.
He told the court that he had never seen the GP’s letter confirming Poslajko’s pregnancy. However, in its determination, the court found Poslajko’s evidence to be credible and coherent.
The court also found that it was not credible for the owner to claim that he was unaware of her pregnancy for some 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 demonstrated that it engaged in a bona fide disciplinary process to address alleged underperformance by Poslajko.
It found that she had made a prima facie case that the initial reduction in hours was a consequence of her pregnancy and that Clelands has failed to adduce any evidence that rebuts the claims advanced.