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$44,000 awarded for pregnancy and carer discrimination

Written on the 26 April 2013 by Lynne Brook, Brook Personnel

The Federal Magistrates Court recently ruled against an employer on the basis that it had discriminated against an employee because of her pregnancy and her childcare responsibilities.

The Court accepted the claim that the employer had failed to renew the employee’s 12 month fixed term contract and making her appointment permanent because of her pregnancy.

The Court found that due to the employee’s caring responsibilities after giving birth, the employer made it clear that the only way she could return to work was to convert to casual employment. The employee was found to be constructively dismissed and the Court said that at least part of the reason for the constructive dismissal was due to her carer responsibilities.

The Court heard that the employer’s conduct resulted in the employee feeling embarrassed to be pregnant and caused her some anxiety and stress both before she went on maternity leave and after she returned.

It was held that ‘her pregnancy, maternity leave and child care responsibilities provided the catalyst, or perhaps more correctly the vehicle, through which [the employer] sought to limit her participation in the workforce and, ultimately, to affect her removal from it’.

The employee had reported the matter directly to the employer’s Board and it undertook to resolve the dispute but failed to properly respond to the matter and resolve the complaint. The employer was ordered to pay approximately $30,000 in compensatory damages and $9,000 in general damages plus interest and the Board was directed to issue a written apology.

Key Point: Employers must genuinely consider flexible work arrangements for parents returning to the workforce. It is also imperative that employers take timely action to respond to a workplace complaint.  In this case, the employee’s concerns regarding her treatment were not properly handled by the Board and resulted in a significant award of damages.

Mark Bunch is a Partner of Aitken Legal, a law firm specialising in employment law for employers. www.aitkenlegal.com.au. The information in this column is intended as a guide only.  Liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation.

Click here for more details on this case or contact Aitken Legal

Author: Lynne Brook, Brook Personnel