Woman awarded £25,000 after settling tribunal case over pregnancy
An internship company has apologised and paid £25,000 to settle a tribunal case after an employee alleged sex discrimination relating to her pregnancy.
Ruth Faulkner, aged 39 and from Bangor in Co Down, had worked since 2010 at Intern Europe Limited, sourcing professional internships across Northern Ireland as a work placements officer.
The Equality Commission backed her after she was left feeling "isolated and sidelined" by her employers since disclosing her pregnancy.
Her employer said it had not selected the claimant for cost savings because of her pregnancy and had not accepted liability.
During her maternity leave Ms Faulkner had asked to work the same hours in a different pattern, to help meet childcare commitments. Instead the company reduced her hours, the Commission said.
It added: "On the first day Ms Faulkner returned to work after her maternity leave, she was immediately brought to a meeting where she was informed that her post was potentially at risk of redundancy.
"She alleged that she was told that the company wanted to discuss an option with her where she would choose to leave rather than go through a formal redundancy situation.
"Ms Faulkner claimed that she was informed that if she wanted to consider this option she could not return to her desk and had to leave the office right away."
Ms Faulkner said before she told the firm of her pregnancy she felt respected and appreciated.
She added: "Afterwards I felt isolated, excluded, side-lined and ignored.
"When I returned to work after the birth of my child, to be confronted with a proposal to terminate my employment, I was shocked and upset."
Mary Kitson, senior legal officer at the Commission, said it was still too common for women who told their employers they were pregnant to feel they were treated in an unfair or discouraging fashion.
Ms Kitson added: "All employers need to make sure that pregnant women and returning mothers have a supportive environment with flexible, family-friendly policies and practices.
"That is what they are entitled to under the law. It also makes good business sense for employers themselves, enabling them to benefit from the skills and knowledge of experienced staff."
In settling this case, Intern Europe apologised to Ms Faulkner for any injury to feelings, distress and upset caused.
It also affirmed its commitment to equality of opportunity and undertook to liaise with the Equality Commission.
An Intern Europe statement said: "As a business, we were facing financial difficulty, we were looking at having to make some hard decisions and cost savings was a part of that.
"We stated that we in no way selected the claimant because of her pregnancy, or issues related to it, and have not accepted liability.
"We accept the process of approaching the claimant caused upset, which is regretful, but was never intentional, and we sincerely apologised for this."
It said the settlement was a "commercial choice" which brought about an "amicable" end to the claimant's employment and an end to her claims.
"Any compensation paid was paid as a whole based on all of these aspects.
"We are happy to work with the Commission on reviewing any policies, and as a business we want to ensure we have fair and transparent polices in place.
"I look forward to continuing to work with and having good relations with the Equality Commission.
"We wish the claimant well and hope both the claimant and we as a business can move past this and look to the future."