herald

Monday 20 August 2018

Hotel worker in 'births' tragedy awarded €315k

A HOTEL employee has been awarded €315,000 by the Equality Tribunal after it found that she was discriminated against and victimised while pregnant.

Julie O'Brien had three miscarriages while working as marketing director of O'Callaghan Hotels.

She took a case against the hotel group, which is owned by Noel O'Callaghan, a Fianna Fail supporter who is an associate of Bertie Ahern and uncle of Ryanair's Michael O'Leary.

In its judgment the tribunal found that Ms O'Brien became ill due to stress placed on her at work while pregnant.

It had heard that she was warned about the connections of the managing director in an attempt to convince her to take redundancy.

The O'Callaghan group of hotels includes the Davenport and St Stephen's Green hotels in Dublin as well as hotels in America and Gibraltar

Ms O'Brien was employed with the hotel group from May 2003 until March 2010, following the stillbirth of her daughter in August the previous year.

Tragedy

The tragedy followed two previous miscarriages and Ms O'Brien had told the company that during the third pregnancy that she wanted to "have this child in peace". Ms O'Brien first became pregnant in 2004 and worked until late Friday, January 14, 2005.

A few hours after finishing work, she went into labour and her son was born the following day.

She alleged that she was put under pressure to work during her maternity leave after the first miscarriage and regularly received calls, emails and was couriered documents from the office.

Ms O'Brien alleged that she was also put under pressure to work during a second maternity leave in 2008 after her miscarriage.

Prior to her return from maternity leave in 2008 she had requested to work a four-day week and said that the managing director, Mr O'Callaghan's, response was "volcanic".

She was told by the managing director that he would prefer for her not to be on the staff of O'Callaghan Hotels if she had a third child, she claimed.

The tribunal was told that the business was hit by a sharp decline in business in 2008 followed by redundancies.

Ms O'Brien claimed to have told both the managing director and general manager that she previously had two miscarriages and did not to work during her maternity leave.

Redundancy

Prior to the start of her leave in November 2009, she claimed she was asked to take redundancy and told it was better than being given "a month's notice".

She maintained that she found it "very threatening" that the general manager referred to how "well-connected" the managing director was in this encounter.

She "jumped back in shock" when presented with a letter to sign agreeing to receive her P45 after being paid for maternity leave and holidays up to November 2009.

She refused to sign the letter and alleged she was put under "intolerable pressure" to do so. She went into labour 28 weeks early and her daughter was stillborn in September 2009.

The company directors had denied Ms O'Brien's version of events and said that she wanted to resign.

They agreed that she performed very well in a very senior role in the company.

However the tribunal found that she was victimised and discriminated against.

She was awarded her €220,500 (21 months' salary) for the harassment and discriminatory dismissal. She was further awarded €94,500 (nine months salary) for the distress caused by victimisation.

kdoyle@herald.ie

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