Court overturns pregnancy discrimination award against Kerry patisserie firm

The Labour Court overturned a €33,600 pregnancy discrimination award made to a pastry chef
Court overturns pregnancy discrimination award against Kerry patisserie firm

Gordon Deegan

The Labour Court has overturned a €33,600 pregnancy discrimination award made to a pastry chef by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

In May 2020, the WRC ordered a Co Kerry patisserie firm, David Aranda Petit Delice Ltd, to pay Jessica Padayachee €33,600 after finding that she was discriminated against on the grounds of both gender and family status when dismissed when pregnant in 2019.

The firm – which operates outlets in Killarney and Caherciveen – has now successfully appealed the WRC ruling and award to the Labour Court on the basis that a salary figure in Ms Padayachee’s work permit application was falsified by the job applicant.

Ms Padayachee was employed by the business from March 1st, 2019, to April 2nd, 2019.

Work permit

In order to secure the job, the South African pastry chef required the signature of her employer to complete the work permit process where there was a requirement that an applicant earn €2,800 per month to secure a permit.

Ms Padayachee was due to earn €2,000 per month for the pastry chef position but inserted the false €2,800 figure in the application form.

Ms Padayachee argued that the reason for the firm's refusal to sign the work permit was her pregnancy and that the consequence was that she lost her job.

In response, David Aranda Petit Delice Ltd denied any act of discrimination, denied any dismissal and noted that the owner of the business, David Aranda, was never actually asked to sign the application.

In the Labour Court’s determination, deputy chairman Tom Geraghty said that in the view of the court, "it would be unthinkable for it to issue a determination that an employer is compelled to sign an application that contains an inaccuracy that may very well render them liable, should they do so, to potential prosecution and, at the very least, would open them to the accusation of moral, if not legal, dishonesty".

Mr Geraghty said that as a consequence, the court "need look no further" in its deliberations in the case.

He said the patisserie firm "is obligated to act within the law and is absolutely entitled to protect its reputation. There is no obligation, and there can be no obligation, on the respondent to justify its failure to sign the application if, by so signing, it would involve submitting false information to the appropriate authorities".

Protections

Mr Geraghty added that the court did give extensive consideration as to the reasons for the firm’s failure to sign the application, having regard to the significant and necessary protections provided to pregnant women under the Act.

He said: "Ultimately, however, the Court came to the only possible view available to it that, notwithstanding any potential question marks as to motivation, the Court could not possibly find that an employer is under an obligation to sign an incorrect or false declaration. As a result, the very basis for the complaint is not well-founded and the appeal must succeed."

Mr Geraghty said the firm argued that Ms Padayachee deliberately falsified this figure, to which Ms Padayachee's representative argued that she did so on advice from migrant.ie.

The firm told the Labour Court that it has a strong history as an equal opportunities employer, has employed people of various nationalities and of 10 current employees, seven are women.

The company said it had always been supportive of pregnant employees and letters were submitted to the court confirming this.

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