herald

Friday 9 December 2016

We didn't sack office worker over pregnancy - Thornton's tell tribunal

Aisling Neidhard worked at Thornton's Michelin restaurant.
Aisling Neidhard worked at Thornton's Michelin restaurant.

A woman who worked for Michelin star chef Kevin Thornton claims she was sacked from his award-winning restaurant because she was pregnant.

Aisling Neidhard, who worked in the office of the celebrity chef’s restaurant last year, claims his wife Muriel asked her if she was a newly-wed and if she planned on having children during her job interview.

However, Mrs Thornton – who runs the popular fine-dining restaurant with her husband – strongly refuted this claim in the Employment Appeals Tribunal yesterday and said Ms Neidhard’s contract termination was a genuine redundancy due to financial difficulties.

Mrs Neidhard first met the Thorntons when she interviewed in 2013 for the position of sales, marketing and office manager within their restaurant, which is based in the Fitzwilliam Hotel in Dublin. She was unsuccessful due to her lack of experience in the sales department, said Mrs Thornton. 

However, she said she admired Ms Neidhard’s enthusiasm and asked her to work in the office on an eight-week contract until she filled the role .

 A suitable candidate was found, but it was decided that the woman who was due to assume the role needed help in the office while she established a database late in 2013.

Losses

She was also due to take time off for her honeymoon in January 2014, so Ms Neidhard’s contract was extended to provide cover for that period.

Mrs Thornton told the hearing they were experiencing financial difficulties in the business at that time and explained they had incurred losses of almost €80,000 in 2013. In February 2014, she said that she would have to make redundancies and one staff member was let go from the kitchen.

Mrs Thornton told the tribunal that on the morning of March 4, she invited Ms Neidhard to meet her.

It was there that she then told the expectant mother, who informed her of her pregnancy at the end of January, that she was being made redundant.

“She was upset, which I understand. She said she was shocked but I don’t really understand how she was shocked,” Ms Thornton said. The company director claims the former employee was aware that business was slow.

Jadel Naidoo, BL for Ms Neidhard, told the hearing that his client claims she was asked in her job interview if she was a newly-wed and if she planned on having children soon. However, Mrs Thornton strongly denies this.

“I had a very good relationship with Aisling. I was thrilled for her (when she told me she was pregnant),” she added.

Mr Thornton was the first Irish chef to receive two Michelin stars.

The hearing continues.

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