Tuesday 21 November 2017

Woman claims she was sacked from Michelin star chef's restaurant 'for becoming pregnant'

Kevin Thornton and wife Muriel strongly refute the allegation

Kevin and Muriel Thornton
Kevin and Muriel Thornton
Emma Jane Hade

Emma Jane Hade

A WOMAN who worked for Michelin star chef Kevin Thornton claims she was sacked from his award-winning restaurant because she was pregnant.

Aisling Neidhard, who worked in the office of the celebrity chef’s restaurant last year, claims his wife Muriel asked her if she was a newlywed and if she planned on having children during her job interview.

However, Ms Thornton – who runs the popular restaurant with her husband – strongly refuted this allegation at an Employment Appeals Tribunal and said Ms Neidhard’s contract termination was a genuine redundancy due to financial difficulties.

Ms Neidhard first met the Thorntons in 2013 when she interviewed for the position of sales, marketing and office manager within their restaurant which is in the Fitzwilliam Hotel in Dublin. But she was unsuccessful due to her lack of experience in the sales department, according to Ms Thornton. 

Restaurateur Muriel Thornton
Restaurateur Muriel Thornton
Restaurateur Kevin Thornton

However, she said she admired Ms Neidhard’s enthusiasm, and asked her to work in the office on an eight-week contract until she filled the role, in September that year. 

A suitable candidate was later found for the position, but it was decided that the woman who was due to assume the role needed help while she established a database late in 2013.

She was also due to take time off for her honeymoon in January 2014, so Ms Neidhard’s contract was extended to provide cover for that period.

Ms Neidhard’s duties involved sending emails, answering the phone and preparing menus for dinner service.

Ms Thornton told the hearing they were experiencing severe financial difficulties in the business at that time, and said they had incurred losses of almost €80,000 in 2013. 

So in February 2014, she identified that she would have to make redundancies, and one staff member was let go from the kitchen.

Ms Thornton told the tribunal that she met Ms Neidhard on March 4 and told the expectant mother, who informed her of her pregnancy at the end of January, that she was being made redundant.

“She was upset, which I understand. She said she was shocked, but I don’t really understand how she was shocked,” said Ms Thornton.

The company director claims the former employee was aware that business was slow.

Jadel Naidoo, for Ms Neidhard, told the hearing that his client claims she was asked in her job interview if she was a newlywed and if she planned on having children soon.

Former employee Aisling Neidhard
Former employee Aisling Neidhard

However, Ms Thornton strongly denied this allegation.

“I can’t believe that somebody would say that. I had a very good relationship with Aisling. I was thrilled for her (when she told me she was pregnant),” she said.

Ms Thornton described her former employee as a “good worker”. 

Kevin Thornton was the first Irish chef to receive two Michelin stars. Their “family-run” restaurant employs between 15 and 20 people.

The hearing continues.

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