The Equality Tribunal has awarded compensation of €63,000 to a Travelodge receptionist for discrimination on the ground of race, and for victimisation. The employee, a Polish national, commenced employment as an accommodation assistant with Travelodge, Waterford in 2007. She secured a position as receptionist in 2008 working an average of 43 hours each week.

In 2011 she went on maternity leave and on her return she found that her hours had been reduced. The staff member taken on to cover her maternity leave was kept on. She alleged that her manager told her that her English was not good enough to work day-shifts despite having worked those shifts for the previous three years with no issue. She claimed her manager said she had “been off for the last six months with your baby speaking Polish at home.”

The employee lodged a formal written complaint. Following an investigatory meeting, she alleged that she was “threatened” by her manager who informed her that he would review CCTV footage for any possible wrongdoing by her. Her internal complaint was rejected by her employer.

In early 2012, the employee was called to a disciplinary meeting when it was alleged she had sold alcohol to a non-resident of the hotel. The employee was able to prove that the customer in the footage was, in fact, a guest. After this incident, the employee lodged a complaint with the Equality Tribunal.

Travelodge did not make a written submission to the Tribunal (as required) and did not appear at the hearing of the case.

The Tribunal heard extensive evidence from the employee and viewed her as a “credible witness.” It was satisfied that she was “fluent in written and spoken English” and did not accept the employer’s assertions in respect of her proficiency in English as the reason for not giving her day-shifts. It found the employee had succeeded in her complaint of discrimination on the ground of race.

The Tribunal held the employee had returned from maternity leave to less favourable working conditions. The Tribunal further accepted that the employee had established that she was treated less favourably because of her maternity leave.

The Tribunal was also satisfied that the actions taken by the employer following the employee’s complaint (being the examination of CCTV footage and commencement of disciplinary proceedings) amounted to adverse treatment and victimisation.

The Tribunal made an award of compensation equal to three times the employee’s salary, comprising one year’s salary in compensation for discrimination and two years’ salary in compensation for victimisation.

Employers are reminded of their obligations under equality legislation to ensure that employees are not discriminated against on the basis of any of the nine prohibited grounds, or victimised as a result of having raised a complaint.