A recent determination from the Equality Tribunal highlights again the importance of a properly drafted compromise agreement where employers and employees are terminating the employment relationship and any claims arising from it.
We previously reported on the essential components of a validly executed agreement in an earlier bulletin and this latest case further illustrates the point (Agnieszka Sobczyk v. SAMI SWOI Limited DEC E2015-16)
The claimant, a shop assistant, alleged she had been discriminated against on the grounds of gender and family status. The case, however, concerned a preliminary point concerning the enforceability of a compromise/settlement agreement. The Tribunal reviewed the settlement agreement before it and noted that while the claimant had agreed to withdraw her unfair dismissal claim, there was nothing in the agreement to suggest that her complaint before the Equality Tribunal had been withdrawn. Accordingly the Tribunal determined that the agreement did not preclude them from hearing her complaint. The determination on the preliminary point reiterates the importance of having a settlement agreement that is in full and final settlement of all claims and lists specifically the various employment law Acts under which claims are being compromised.
The Tribunal then looked at the substantive claim regarding discrimination on the grounds of gender and family status. The Tribunal found that the respondent attempted to issue the claimant a written warning on the morning on the day she notified her employer of her pregnancy. She was then advised a few months later that her contract was not to be renewed and she was being dismissed. The complainant stated the only explanation she received was a statement from her manager to the effect that "if you were loyal to the company, your pregnancy would not be a problem for the company".
The Tribunal was influenced by the case of A Company v. a Worker. The Labour Court found that no complaints were made about the complainant's work until she informed the employer that she was pregnant. The Court in that case referred to the special protection afforded under the Equal Treatment Directive and the Pregnancy Directive and stated that "a worker cannot be discriminated against or be dismissed while pregnant except in exceptional grounds unconnected with the pregnancy. In addition, such grounds must be clear and stated in writing." The claimant received no letter of dismissal or grounds for dismissal in writing from the respondent, contrary to the provisions of the Pregnancy Directive.
On foot of this, the Tribunal found that the complainant had established a prima facie case of discrimination on the grounds of gender. The Tribunal found that the evidence relied upon by the claimant related to her treatment during her pregnancy. This supported a claim on the grounds of gender. No evidence was given on behalf of the respondent to rebut these arguments. However, no evidence was adduced in relation to her claim on the family status ground and she didn’t provide any evidence of a comparator with a different family status. This head of the claim failed. The Tribunal awarded €10,000 for the discrimination on the gender ground.
The gender discrimination aspect of the case serves as a reminder for employers of the special status and protection to be afforded to pregnant workers from the time of announcement of their pregnancy.