Director lost her job after third pregnancy

A pregnant woman was effectively sacked while on maternity leave by one of the country’s major hotel groups, having previously been warned that one of her bosses was close to former taoiseach Brian Cowen.

Julie O’Brien, who had worked as a sales and marketing director at the O’Callaghan Hotel group, was awarded €315,000 after the Equality Tribunal found she had been victimised, harassed, and fired due to discrimination.

The details of the case were published yesterday, with the tribunal concluding that the hotel group had “unilaterally terminated the complainant’s contract of employment while she was on maternity leave” expecting her third child.

Her third child was stillborn at 28 weeks. She told the hearing that she did not blame the death on her employers, but claimed the difficulties she had endured with her employer had depleted her energy levels and made it harder to cope with the loss of her daughter.

In the case taken against Persian Properties, trading as O’Callaghan Hotels, Ms O’Brien said she began working for the company in May 2003 as a director of sales and marketing. The managing director, referred to as Mr A, praised her management of the sales team, but she told the tribunal there was a more sexist atmosphere within the firm than had been the case in her previous jobs.

She had her first child in Jan 2005, just hours after finishing work. She said she was put under pressure not to take full maternity leave.

She said she came under similar pressure following the birth of her second son in 2008. That year she attended a meeting with clients just weeks after giving birth, and also fired another employee of the group while she was still on leave.

The tribunal found that Mr A had said to Ms O’Brien that he would prefer her not to be an employee of O’Callaghan Hotels if she was to have a third child. It also found that when she became pregnant in 2009, the company did not wish to continue employing her, particularly when she said she did not want to work during her maternity leave.

“I find that when Ms O’Brien did not volunteer for redundancy, the termination of her employment was disingenuously repackaged as ‘early maternity leave’,” the tribunal ruled.

It backed her version of events regarding Mr A’s political connections.

She said that having rejected an offer of voluntary redundancy during her third pregnancy, Mr B, the group general manager for O’Callaghan Hotels, referred to how well-connected Mr A was. Ms O’Brien said she found this threatening and interpreted it to refer to Mr A’s political connections, having often seen Mr A having lunch with the then taoiseach, Brian Cowen. The tribunal agreed that this reference was “a threat”.

The tribunal awarded Ms O’Brien €220,500, equivalent to 21 months’ salary, in compensation for harassment and discriminatory dismissal, and €94,500, for distress caused by victimisation.


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