Gorey Guardian

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Pregnant woman loses her unfair dismissal claim

A COURTOWN woman who claimed she was fired from her job as she was pregnant has been unsuccessful in a claim she brought before an Employment Appeals Tribunal.

Sharon Mulligan, 8 Riverchapel Lawns, Courtown, brought the case under the Unfair Dismissals Act (1977 to 2001), against Falcon Pharmacies Limited, T/A Johnston's Pharmacy, 21/23 Ranelagh, Dublin 6.

The Tribunal heard this claim in Dublin on February 29 and July 18 last. Sharon Mulligan attended to make her own case, while Mr. Breffni Gordon, B.L., appeared for Falcon Pharmacies.

Ms. Mulligan contended that her dismissal was due to her pregnancy. However, giving evidence on behalf of Falcon Pharmacies, a Company Director denied that she was dismissed due to her pregnancy, but rather due to her performance as manager of one of the company's pharmacies.

The Company Director became aware of the claimant's pregnancy sometime around early May 2007 and said she was happy for her.

Ms. Mulligan had initially been employed on a six-month contract in the role of manager with responsibility for the retail side of the pharmacy.

In January 2007 the Company Director wrote to the claimant offering her a further six-month probationary contract. In the letter were outlined targets that Ms. Mulligan was required to meet in order secure a permanent position. The letter also outlined a number of performance issues in relation to the claimant.

These were being late for work on occasion and thus setting a bad example to other staff; not complying with the procedure in place for applying for leave; un-notified absences; staffing levels too low due to staff absence and lateness; problems with the staff rota; cash receipts not being filed to HQ to according to procedure, causing problems for the accountant; the level of front of shop sales and the cleanliness of the shop area.

When the Company Director met Ms. Mulligan on May 28, 2007, at a coffee shop near the pharmacy, they discussed the difficulties at the pharmacy and she told her that she was unable to continue employing her.

On the second day of the hearing, an employee of Falcon Pharmacies located in the Naas branch gave evidence. She explained that she was, at present, on maternity leave from work.

She said there had been no problem with reducing her hours during her pregnancy – from 40 to 12 per week.

A second former employee from the Naas branch also gave evidence. She also stated that she had been pregnant while employed with the respondent and had no problems with her employer, who had been very encouraging.

Ms. Mulligan told the Tribunal she commenced employment with the respondent in June 2006 and was never given a contract of employment.

In early 2007 she became pregnant and informed the owner in April 2007. On May 28, 2007, she arrived for work. The owner was present, asked her to go for a coffee and informed her she was to be let go.

She said she had never received any written or verbal warnings that it states in the disciplinary and dismissal procedures in the staff handbook. When she asked what the reason was, she was informed that sales were down. She was so upset and shocked she went home.

Ms. Mulligan told the Tribunal that she felt she had been dismissed because of her pregnancy as she had only informed the owner a few weeks previous.

During cross-examination Ms. Mulligan said that the owner had not raised the issue of any problems with her or the running of the shop, even though they had met on a weekly basis.

When asked why she thought she was dismissed because of her pregnancy, she replied that it all happened 'in a timeframe'.

When the issues in the letter of January 2007 to extend her probationary period were put to her, she replied that she felt she had improved greatly.

Ms. Mulligan contended that the turnover of staff was not due to her and there were other factors which explained it, such as the fact that a technician wasn't hired for the pharmacy. Regarding the cleanliness of the shop, she said that the shop was under refit, which caused extra dirt.

The Tribunal determined that the onus of proof is on the claimant to prove that the reason for her dismissal was pregnancy. However, the Tribunal found that she was unable to sufficiently prove her case.