Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine
A human rights body in Ontario has ordered an operator of two associated salons to pay more than $35,000 in penalties after determining a worker was fired minutes after informing her employer she was pregnant.
Naomi Overend, vice-chair of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario in Toronto, ordered the employer to pay Jessica Maciel, minus application deductions, $9,060 as compensation for loss of employment income; $11,659 for loss of maternity leave benefits, and $15,000 for injury to her dignity, feelings and self-respect.
Also in the Oct0ber 28, 2009 ruling, Overend ordered Fashion Coiffures Ltd. and Crystal Coiffures Ltd. to jointly prepare a written policy related to accommodating pregnant workers and maternity/parental leave practices.
The incident in question occurred on August 11, 2008 after Maciel arrived for her first day of work at Nina D’Arena Salon in Mississauga, Ontario. About four and a half months pregnant at the time, Maciel testified she informed the manager that she was pregnant and was fired about 15 minutes later.
“I was so shocked that this would happen to me in the 21st century,” Maciel said before the rights tribunal. “This should not happen to anyone else.”
The employer submitted it was not aware Maciel was pregnant and that she was fired because she asked to work part-time, despite being hired for a full-time position.
“That is the challenge we do see in these kinds of cases where an employer will raise a non-discriminatory reason for the termination, and in this case that non-discriminatory reason simply didn’t hold water,” says Kate Sellar, a member of the Human Rights Legal Support Centre in Toronto who served as Maciel’s counsel.
In the ruling, Overend cites an August 12, 2008 letter from the manager that stated Maciel had requested a position “which only allowed approximately 20 hours a week” and that no such job existed. Maciel was hired for a position totalling 31 and 33 hours per week, the letter noted.
But when Maciel asked for a copy of her employment contract, manager Cinzia Conforti informed her it had already been shredded. “I find it inconsistent that Conforti would go to the effort of confirming there was no part-time position and specifically set out which hours the applicant was expected to work, but then shred the contract of employment between the parties,” Overend writes. “This carefully constructed letter is more consistent with the applicant’s evidence that in one of the post-termination telephone call she advised Ms. Conforti that it was discriminatory to fire someone because they were pregnant and asked for her contract of employment.”
In coming to compensation, Overend considered a variety of factors, including unsuccessful attempts to find other work, which Maciel abandoned at seven months pregnant, and resulting depression.
To those who suggest that $35,000 “seems like a large award for 15 minutes of work,” Sellar points out “it is very important to communicate that the award has nothing to do with how long you have worked there. The general damage is your experience of victimization – what impact does that have on you going forward. It’s a forward-looking award. It looks at putting you back in the position you would have been in if the discrimination hadn’t happened.
To think that someone could get away with this today is unthinkable! Mind you, the legislation was passed to encourage the changes in our society to have more children. (I wished it was there when we were raising kids)
I found the people involved to be despicable and unrealistic in the pursuits of the almighty dollar. This woman should have been able to deal with this with dignity and I feel the burning of the evidence was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
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