The owner of a Dublin-based restaurant, pub and hotel group has been ordered to pay €104,000 to an ex-girlfriend for her unfair dismissal from the business.
The two first met 31 years ago and were in a relationship for 10 years. After their relationship ended, the two remained best friends and the company boss is the godfather of the woman’s only daughter.
The unnamed woman started working at the business 26 years ago and the business has grown from a small bar to a large business today made up of bars, a hotel and spas, apartments and restaurants - one of the group’s businesses includes a hotel and bar in Dublin.
For the first 10 years of the business, the two ran the business together and at the time of her unfair dismissal, the complainant was employed as Operations Director.
In her hard-hitting ruling, WRC Adjudication Officer, Niamh O’Carroll Kelly found that the unnamed business owner “took advantage of his personal relationship with the complainant in an attempt to force her out of the company so as to ensure minimal financial impact on the company”.
Ms O’Carroll Kelly stated that the company owner “went so far as to use his relationship with the complainant’s daughter to force her to accept a wholly inadequate package to secure her exit from the company”.
Ms O’Carroll Kelly stated: “I am satisfied, she was subjected to a prolonged campaign of verbal abuse, stonewalling, bullying, intimidation, and emotional manipulation all of which were at the very serious end of the spectrum.”
She was shouted at, sworn at, emotionally blackmailed, emotionally manipulated, stonewalled by her colleagues on the instruction of her employer, intimidated by her employer on countless occasions, bullied into accepting inadequate settlement/ redundancy packages.
Ms O’Carroll Kelly stated that she was “fully satisfied that it will be some considerable time before the complainant will recover from the treatment she was subjected to at the hands of her former employer”.
Ms O’Carroll Kelly stated that she also accepted that having “never worked anywhere else and never having done any courses when the complainant worked for the respondent, she will need to up-skill and work on her interview skills with a view to handling the inevitable question in relation to how her employment ended”.
Ms O’Carroll Kelly stated that the complainant “was totally blameless in relation to her dismissal”.
Ms O’Carroll Kelly made the findings and ordered the company to pay the Operations Manager two years' salary after hearing uncontested evidence from the complainant concerning her treatment.
The woman recalled how she met in a pub at Monkstown last summer with the business owner where the man put forward an exit package.
The woman told the WRC that the man asked her “how many best friends do you have?”
She stated that he knew that her best friend, who had worked for him, died the previous year.
She stated that he then said: “I am your best friend now and if you take the redundancy, it will remain that way and I will remain in your daughter's life.”
She stated that he followed that by saying: “I got advice on the matter. I am willing to, and capable of, taking the hit of two years of your salary. You don’t have anything, lawyers are very expensive and I will drag this out for over a year."
She stated that he then offered her €60,000. When the complainant didn't respond he said “what is it going to take to get you to leave? Come on; humour me...Name your price; everyone has a price.”
She stated €150,000 and in reply, he said: “That's my girl, now look, we're just talking about money”.
She stated that he then said: “Worst-case scenario for me is two years and I am willing to take the hit.
I am going to fire you tomorrow and you won’t be working out your notice. Give me your phone and your car keys.
She asked how she would get home and she recalled he said: “I don't care”.
They met the following day where the owner gave her a termination letter and when she read the termination letter, it said that she had been terminated because she lacked capacity.
She stated that this horrified her. She told the WRC that she has been emotionally destroyed due to the treatment she has received at the hands of the company owner.
Prior to her unfair dismissal, the Operations Director was involved in the purchase, setting up and running of several premises acquired in well-off areas of the northside of Dublin for the business.
She was also the interior designer in relation to the apartments that had been purchased and she carried out the interior design of the company owner’s private home.
The problems in the business relationship between the two started in March 2018 arising from a new business on the northside that was facing public objections and had gone over-budget.
She stated that the company owner confronted her concerning the performance of the business and told her “what are you f**king going to do about it. We have spent so much f**king money on this place, what are you going to f**king do about it?"
While in his car, she stated that she was exhausted and in response, he told her:
Well you can fucking go now, get the fuck out of here. Get the fuck out of my car now.
The Operations Director went on holiday and while on the break, she called a guest who had an upcoming event at one of the business's venues and he was surprised to hear from her as he heard that she had left the business.
No one at the business was taking her calls and when she met the company owner, he told her to concentrate on a different business in the northside where he wanted the revenue increased by €1m for the following year.
The woman stated that the company boss then went on to say that the complainant was “past it” and had “lost her grip on everything” and “at your age you should be taking it easier”.
She stated that because she had built a northside business from the ground up, she wanted to work an exit strategy.
In her evidence, the woman provided detail on other encounters with the company owner and related how after one, she was so distressed that when she pulled up into a petrol station, she put petrol and not diesel into her car as she couldn't think straight.
She stated that after her return from holiday last July, the company boss told her that they had a new general manager and that they would be making her position redundant. She stated that the first exit offer was €30,000 plus her car.
The company didn’t contest the former Operations Director’s claim for unfair dismissal but did claim that she failed to mitigate her loss and she was cross-examined on this by solicitors for the company owner at the WRC hearing.
However, Ms O’Carroll Kelly stated that there was no action or omission on the part of the complainant that contributed to her financial loss.