The Labour Court has found that Aer Lingus caused ‘gratuitous distress’ to a cabin crew member in how it dealt with an allegation by her concerning remarks made by an Aer Lingus captain.
In the case, Labour Court deputy chairman, Tom Geraghty has rapped Aer Lingus on a number of fronts in how it handled the cabin crew member’s grievance over disputed remarks by the airline captain to the woman that he threatened physical violence against her husband to her.
Aer Lingus refused to attend a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) hearing in relation to the cabin crew member’s grievance resulting in the worker referring the case to the Labour Court.
Mr Geraghty stated that he found it “extraordinary that a reputable employer of the stature of the respondent would refuse to utilise the services of the WRC to assist in the resolution of a dispute of this nature without having good reason for not doing so”.
Mr Geraghty stated that the court was pleased to note the acceptance of Aer Lingus that it would have been better to have facilitated the cabin crew member in this regard.
In the case, the captain denied that he made the alleged remarks and instead that he made some jocose remark to the cabin crew member.
The disputed remarks by the captain were made in October 2017 as the woman’s husband and children were seeking to use staff travel privileges for an overbooked Aer Lingus flight about to take off. The cabin crew member made a complaint to the airline three weeks later.
In response, the airline sent the Cabin Crew member a letter where she was advised that she could be liable for ‘investigation up to and including dismissal’.
The airline apologised verbally to the cabin crew member stating that the letter was issued as a result of “a clerical oversight”.
The airline carried out an investigation into the complaint and it didn’t conclude until May 2018. The investigator found that ‘on balance’ she believed that the captain did not make the comments as alleged.
In his findings, Mr Geraghty found that the unnecessary distress caused to the cabin crew member by the ‘clerical error’ letter is viewed with disapproval by the court, describing the issuing of the letter as ‘rank carelessness’.
Mr Geraghty also found that the inordinate delay in processing the grievance strengthened further the sense on the part of the cabin crew member that she was being victimised for having made a complaint.
Mr Geraghty stated that the court welcomes the assurances given by Aer Lingus “that their processes for handling grievances are undergoing what can only be described as a clearly necessary overhaul”.
A reputable employer such as the Respondent needs to be in a position to bring timely conclusions to straightforward grievances. The Respondent failed to do so in this case and, in so doing, caused further gratuitous distress.
On the findings of the internal investigation that on balance the investigator believed the version of events given by the captain, Mr Geraghty stated in the absence of material or third party evidence such a finding can lead a party to the belief that rank within an organisation plays a part in determining credibility despite the fact that that ought not to be a factor.
Mr Geraghty stated that the court was not in a position to uphold the cabin crew member's grievance.