A tribunal has not accepted a claim that a woman was unfairly dismissed from award-winning Thornton’s Restaurant for being pregnant.
In the ruling, the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) found Thornton’s was “struggling to survive in a difficult market” in early 2014, when Aisling Neidhard was made redundant.
Celebrity chef Kevin Thornton, whose restaurant had a Michelin star for two decades, until 2015, owns and runs the restaurant with his wife and business partner, Muriel Thornton.
Ms Neidhard, who worked in the office of the restaurant, in the Fitzwilliam Hotel on Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green, claimed Muriel Thornton asked during her job interview if, as a newlywed, she planned to have children soon. At the tribunal, Ms Thornton strongly denied she asked that question. In evidence, Ms Neidhard, commenting on losing her job, said: “I have no doubt it was because I was pregnant.”
Ms Neidhard, who began working at the restaurant in September 2013, said: “Business was doing well; I was doing a great job, there was no other reason.”
Ms Thornton told the hearing Ms Neidhard was made redundant in March, 2014, as the business was suffering financially.
In its ruling, the EAT found there can be no doubt that Muriel Thornton, when deciding to make Ms Neidhard redundant, knew that Ms Neidhard was pregnant.
The EAT stated: “There is, however, no suggestion or evidence that supports that this fact had any bearing on the decision reached.” The EAT added that, “on balance, the tribunal is not inclined to accept, as has been suggested, that [Muriel Thornton] made such inappropriate enquiries at the claimant’s initial job interview on her plans to have a family”.
In its determination, the EAT said it did not accept the dismissal resulted wholly or mainly from the fact of Ms Neidhard’s pregnancy, and that being the case, the tribunal did not have jurisdiction to determine the substantive matter under the Unfair Dismissals Acts.
The tribunal said it accepted there “was an unfortunate bluntness, in terms of delivering the message” of Ms Neidhard’s redundancy.
The tribunal stated: “It was, perhaps, these actions which gave rise to the claimant [Ms Neidhard] feeling justifiably aggrieved with the manner in which the employment was terminated.”
The EAT added: “The tribunal does not, however, accept that the claimant [Ms Neidhard] had no inkling that there was a prevailing financial backdrop, which had an effect on the ongoing viability of the restaurant.”
The tribunal accepted that the business was struggling to survive in early 2014, but that there was no obligation to make the details of low sales known to staff, as that would create unnecessary worry, reduce morale, and risk key resignations.
The EAT said that “the restaurant was not under any immediate threat of closure, so long as the situation was prudently managed and with the recognition that difficult decisions were still to be made”.
In evidence, restaurant manager Marita Pinkert said that when asked to identify jobs for redundancy, she said that the office functions being carried out by three people, including Ms Neidhard, could easily be carried out by two people.
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