Wioleta began her employment on 3rd of April 2006. She has been employed to a position titled as a “Practice Administrator”, while in fact her duties were to look after the children and the house of her employer. Initially the relations were satisfying until the time Ms. Wioleta informed her employer that she is pregnant and that she faces a possibility of miscarrying this pregnancy.
She subsequently provided her employer with medical certificates justifying her absence from work. Nonetheless, she has been pressured by the employer to come to work the following day.
She has eventually taken a longer time off work. When she came back she was faced with a hostile and an aggressive behaviour of her employer. Her working hours were reduced and so was her salary under the explanation that the children moved schools and will do the majority of their extra-curricular activities during the school hours, thus previous hours are no longer available.
At last, she has been made redundant under the explanation that the company that employed her suffered a set back and a downturn in business and therefore it was necessary to cut the costs.
Questions of the Labour Court
The Court while assessing the case set out a question of fact, firstly, whether or not, the dismissal was solely motivated by Ms.Wioleta’s pregnancy, thus leading to a direct gender discrimination? Secondly, whether or not, the reduction of the hours was imposed due to the fact that Ms. Wioleta was pregnant? This would also leave us with a direct discrimination case.
The Irish Court in their judgment delivered to the case of Trailer Care Holdings v Deborah Healy relied on European Court of Justice’s ruling in Stichting Vormingcentrum voor Junge Volwassenen. This case stated that pregnancy is a uniquely female condition and any adverse treatment will subsequently lead to a direct discrimination on the grounds of gender.
Directive 92/85/EEC outlined in Article 10 that the period of protection begins with the pregnancy and lasts until the end of the maternity leave. This period is specially recognised by the law, thus any dismissal during this time is unlawful. However, the directive allowed for an exemption. This occurs when a dismissal is made due to a situation that is not connected to the female’s condition. Such must then be expressly stated and reasoned by the employer.
Also, the employer is obliged to assess risks at work that may be of a particular concern to a pregnant worker. If any risk is subsequently found, then it must be addressed by the employer.
Finally, the law provides that the burden of proof to establish a prima facie case rests upon the complainant. It is important to remember that at this point the claimant is not proving employer’s discrimination, but is rather establishing a prima facie case of discrimination from the facts of the case. If this is achieved and is of a belief to the Court, then the burden of proof shifts to the respondent to prove that he has acted in a way that did not infringe the principle of equal treatment.
Decision of the Labour Court
The Court gave weight to the facts accounted by the complainant since these were more believable than respondent’s set of facts that lacked coherency and creditability. For instance, the respondent argued that she had to cut the hours while the kids no longer remained at home for the majority of the day. However, the long-term practice was that after bringing the kids to school, Ms. Wioleta engaged with housework. Therefore, longer school hours could not in any way exclude the hours that she was to spend on housekeeping. The Court also found lack of creditability in the employer’s argument that the work was too hard for her, while maintained the fact that the employer did not really embark on the risk assessment, but merely attempted to use it to make an argument justifying the reduced hours.
The Court took a very similar stance on the fact that the employee was made redundant. The documents presenting the business’ downturn were not audited by an independent accountant, thus were of a very little value to the respondent. What they did show however was that the downturn in business was not so great as to make it a necessity to cut the costs down.
Therefore, the Labour Court has found the employer guilty of a direct discrimination by making the worker redundant. The Court maintained that this was motivated by the worker’s pregnancy. Further, the Court found that the cutting of the hours did constitute a direct discrimination on the grounds of sex.
The Court ordered the plaintiff with damages amounting to €20,000.
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