Sunday 15 December 2019

Chanel girl claims she was asked: Are you keeping baby?

A pregnant Chanel sales assistant who says she was asked by a manager if she was
A pregnant Chanel sales assistant who says she was asked by a manager if she was "keeping the baby" has lost a discrimination case against her employer
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

A PREGNANT Chanel sales assistant who says she was asked by a manager if she was "keeping the baby" has lost a discrimination case against her employer.

Ilena Cappello said the manager made the comment to her after she had been off sick from her weekend job at a Parfums Chanel concession in a large Dublin department store. She was suffering from severe nausea and vomiting.

She said she returned a phone call to her manager, Linda Cooper, who had been looking for her, and said: "I am still not well and I am not able to go to work this weekend because I am pregnant."

Her manager is alleged to have replied: "So what do you want to do? Do you want to work for Chanel?"

The sales assistant said she was "shocked" but replied: "Of course I want to work for Chanel, when I recover. I will be back to work."

According to Ms Cappello, her manager then asked: "Are you going to keep the baby?" She allegedly stressed the word "keep".

The manager allegedly said: "I mean you know [the baby's father] for a short time; I just want to know if it is a planned or unplanned ­pregnancy?"

Ms Cappello said it was "unplanned".

Her manager is alleged to have replied: "We will keep this conversation private. We won't mention this conversation to any member of staff including [the assistant manager]."

Ms Cappello took a note of the conversation. She later took a case to the Equality Tribunal and appealed to the Labour Court.

She said that "the conversation crossed a line and that it was addressing her marital status and was inappropriate and unlawful".

She claimed that she had been discriminated against on grounds of gender, her marital and family status, and also claimed harassment and victimisation. She also claimed she was asked to cover up her condition, making her feel that pregnant workers were not welcome in the shop and that her job was in jeopardy.

In a ruling published on November 3, the Labour Court said the conversation "may or may not have been indiscreet or improper, but it was not unlawful".

Parfum Chanel had not discriminated against Ms Cappello, it did not harass her, and that she had not been victimised, the ruling said.

The Labour Court accepted that the conversation as outlined had taken place but its interpretation was open to dispute. Ms Cooper had said she wanted to be "supportive" of Ms Cappollo when she learnt of her pregnancy, but she was also trying to establish what her intentions were regarding a return to work.

The Labour Court also accepted Ms Cooper's explanation for asking whether the pregnancy was planned or not. Both she and Ms Cooper agreed that they had a "good working and personal relationship, and Ms Cooper said she was talking to her both as a friend and as an employer, and "the conversation reflects that complexity," according to the court ruling.

"She said that not everyone is necessarily happy when they are told they are pregnant. As the conversation developed she was trying to establish how [Ms Cappello] felt and was not passing comment or forming any judgement on the matter."

According to the ruling, Ms Cooper had denied that she asked Ms Cappello if she was keeping the baby. But the Labour Court said that it "preferred" Ms Cappello's account. Given the significance of the event in her life, Ms Cappello would have reason to recall the conversation in greater detail than her manager.

The Labour Court ruled that the conversation "did not adversely impact" on Ms Cappello's employment.

Ms Cappello had also claimed an intrusion into her private life when her manager phoned her at home to query the medical certificates she had submitted in relation to sick leave.

But the Labour Court said there was nothing unusual in this. Separately, it found no delay on the company's part in investigating her case.

Ms Cappello made a formal complaint to Parfum Chanel, which launched an investigation in May 2011 but she didn't participate in the grievance process until earlier this year.

After the birth of her child, she applied for carer's leave and did not return to work. She resigned in March this year.

The company never concluded its investigation.

Ms Cappello appealed an earlier Equality Tribunal ruling to the Labour Court.

Sunday Independent

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