€63,000 award to Polish receptionist quashed

A Polish receptionist who was awarded €63,000 for discrimination and victimisation by the Equality Tribunal has had the award quashed by the Labour Court — because it was made against the wrong employer.

The tribunal ruled last August that the compensation should be paid to Sylwia Wach by Travelodge Management Ltd.

Ms Wach had worked at Travelodge Waterford since 2007. After working an average of 42.9 hours per week, she went on maternity leave in March 2011. She told the tribunal that when she came back her hours had been reduced and another staff member had been brought in from Cork to do shifts.

She said her manager said her contract was only for 24 hours and, therefore, that was all she was entitled to. She said she had an agreement with the previous manager and had been working full-time for the previous three years.

She said the new manager also claimed her English was not good enough for day shifts.

The manager was also alleged to have said: “You have been off for the last six months with your baby speaking Polish at home.” and that the complainant would need to spend more time with her baby. She said she replied that she could speak Polish and English and that her partner was looking after the baby.

In October 2011, Ms Wach sent a written complaint about all the matters to her manager. Ms Wach told the tribunal that, following the complaint, her manager threatened to look through CCTV footage for any possible wrongdoing by her.

Travelodge Management Ltd was ordered to pay Ms Wach €21,000 in compensation for the effects of discrimination and €42,000 for the effects of victimisation. However, after the ruling, Travelodge argued that Ms Wach was employed by a company called Smorgs (Ireland) Ltd, which subsequently became Smorgs ROI Management. It said Travelodge Management Ltd, now Smorgs Property Holdings Ltd, was a separate company.

In overturning the award, the Labour Court said it had no doubt Ms Wach named the wrong respondent in her claim “as a result of a bona fide mistake”.

“That state of affairs may well have been compounded by the fact that the Respondent appears to have held itself out as the complainant’s employer in earlier proceedings. Moreover, the respondent accepted proceedings in the case and failed to deny that it was the Complainant’s employer until the initiation of this appeal, some 30 months after the claim was first initiated,” said Labour Court chairman Kevin Duffy.

He said the only evidence before the court was that Ms Wach was never employed by Travelodge Management Limited. “In the absence of any evidence to the contrary that must be accepted,” he said.

“he court cannot substitute Smorgs (Ireland) Limited or Smorgs ROI Management Limited for the respondent against which the case was taken. In these circumstances the court considers that it has no option but to find that the respondent herein has no liability to the complainant under the Act. Consequently the decision of the Equality Tribunal cannot stand.”


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