HR chief claims maternity leave led to redundancy
A FORMER human resources manager for the retail chain Carraig Donn claims she was made redundant from her €70,000 job because she went on maternity leave.
Cornelia Tobin (42), from Westport, Co Mayo, is seeking compensation from the Irish gift and fashion retailer for unfair dismissal, claiming that she was unfairly targeted for redundancy when she returned to work in May 2011 after being on maternity leave for less than a year.
Ms Tobin said she joined the company in May 2000 and was responsible for all aspects of personnel management and payroll for more than 300 staff at 22 stores across Ireland at the time.
Ms Tobin said there were no problems when she returned to work following her first maternity leave in 2005 but a month before she was due to return from her second maternity leave in May 2011, she received an email advising her that the company would be reviewing her department as part of a company-wide cost-cutting measure.
Upon her return to work on May 16, 2011, she was ordered to review her own department and to "look at all areas except payroll and store hours which were two of the biggest cost factors".
Despite outlining suggestions for possible cost savings in a report the following week, Ms Tobin was told on June 13, 2011, that her own position was being made redundant and that the human resources duties would be largely taken over by Colette Caulfield, whom the tribunal heard had a "tense" and "hostile" relationship with Ms Tobin.
Ms Tobin cited a "particularly tense" conversation she had with Ms Caulfield in August, 2009. She said Ms Caulfield told her she "didn't have time to chit chat and hung up on me".
Ms Caulfield, who joined the company as finance director in February 2009, denied the conversation took place and said she was "quite surprised" by Ms Tobin's claims of a hostile relationship, noting she even bought her flowers when she learned that Ms Tobin was pregnant.
Ms Caulfield told the tribunal the company decided it could "do without a dedicated human resources manager", as some of its competition had done, but was unable to provide any other reasons for such a decision.
"We looked at competitors who didn't have a dedicated HR person and we thought if they could do it, we could do it. The HR department remains closed," she said.
Human resources consultant Conor Hannaway, representing Carraig Donn, argued there was "substantive cause due to the difficult economic situation" that the HR post would be made redundant; he denied that Ms Tobin was unfairly dismissed.
However, barrister Grainne Gilmore, representing Ms Tobin, argued that the company made Ms Tobin redundant after thinking "they could cope without her" while she was on maternity leave.
"The (departmental) review was a just a box-ticking exercise," she said. "As far as we're concerned, the decision had been made."
The tribunal retired to consider the case.