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Equality Decisions published today – €52,000 award for discrimination and victimisation

The Equality Tribunal have published 41 decisions in respect of December 2012 today on their website http://www.equalitytribunal.ie/Press-Releases-1/Press-Releases/What’s-New/The-Equality-Tribunal-publishes-41-decisions-for-December-2012.html. We have highlighted one of a series of cases below namely DEC-E2012-175 Murphy v Independent Newspapers Ireland Limited which resulted in an award of €26,000 in compensation for distress caused by discrimination and €26,000 for the distress caused by victimization.BackgroundThe dispute concerned a claim by Ms Mary Murphy that she was discriminated against by Independent Newspapers (Ireland) Limited on the grounds of gender contrary to section 6 of the Employment Equality Acts in terms of conditions of employment and discriminatory dismissal in accordance with section 8 of the Acts, that she was harassed in terms of section 14A of the Acts and that she was victimized in terms of section 74 (2) of the Acts.The Complainant submitted inter alia that she was unable to enjoy her full legal entitlement to maternity leave uninterrupted as a result of trying to understand her legal rights. The Complainant contended that whilst on maternity leave she was informed that she was not entitled to maternity pay and that she was subsequently pressurised into accepting a settlement after informing the company that she was going to take a claim. In addition she claimed that she had been further victimized when her internet and phone connection were blocked and that she was discriminated against on the grounds of gender because of her treatment during the protected period of her pregnancy and when she was threatened with dismissal and then dismissed during this period. The Complainant also submitted she was unfairly selected for redundancy when she returned to work following her maternity leave.The Respondent conceded that the Complainant was given incorrect information on her right to maternity pay and that the information was given in good faith but was an unfortunate but genuine error. The Respondent also gave evidence that the Complainant could avail of a number of options including resuming work post leave under a new contract of employment or voluntarily accepting pay in lieu of notice, plus any outstanding holiday pay. The Complainant opted to return to work at the end of her maternity leave and rejected an offer of alternative employment.Findings and Conclusion

  • The Tribunal accepted the Respondent’s evidence that the Complainant had no contractual right to receive maternity pay but noted that whilst the Complainant was initially misinformed about her maternity pay, such mistakes did not amount to discrimination.
  • The Tribunal accepted the Complainant’s evidence that the Respondent attempted to make her redundant when she was on maternity leave and she was put under pressure to accept a pay-off that did not include statutory redundancy payment.
  • The  Equality Tribunal accepted that the Complainant’s dismissal arose because of restructuring and that she was treated in the same way as the other two Business Development Managers who were let go under the restructuring. The Tribunal noted that the Complainant did not provide any evidence that the selection criteria were unfairly applied to her and therefore the Complainant had been unable to establish a prima facie case of discrimination in relation to discriminatory dismissal.
  • The Complainant was threatened with dismissal at the beginning of her maternity leave and this was only withdrawn when the Complainant told the Respondent she could not be dismissed while on maternity leave. The Respondent cut off access to a mobile phone and internet access and the Tribunal accepted the Complainant’s evidence that this caused her considerable stress.
  • The Tribunal accepted that the conversations which took place on 14th August 2008 with the Complainant were a clear threat of dismissal and intended to pressure her into leaving the respondent’s employment. The Tribunal found these actions amounted to direct discrimination on the grounds of gender in relation to the complainant’s conditions of employment.
  • The Tribunal could not find any evidence that the Respondent’s actions amounted to harassment within the meaning of the Acts.
  • The Tribunal was satisfied that the Complainant made a general complaint of discrimination when she informed the Company that she was on maternity leave and could not be made redundant however no mention of the return of company property was made when the Respondent initially informed the Complainant that her position was being made redundant. The Equality Tribunal noted that the request for return of property only came after the Complainant complained that the threat of redundancy impinged on her rights whilst on maternity leave and found these events to be so closely linked as to amount to victimization

In essence the Tribunal ruled:

  1. The Respondent discriminated against the Complainant in relation to conditions of employment,
  2. The Respondent did not dismiss the Complainant in a discriminatory manner,
  3. The Complainant was not harassed,
  4. The complainant was victimized.

The Tribunal ordered the Respondent pay the Complainant: (a) €26,000 in compensation for the distress caused by the discrimination in relation to conditions of employment, and (b) €26,000 for the distress caused by victimization.

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