Woman wins £28k in pregnancy discrimination case against Armagh business

A Lithuanian woman who lost her job at a County Armagh garden nursery, after she told management she was pregnant, has been awarded almost £28,000.

An Industrial Tribunal has found that Laura Gruzdaite was treated differently when she told bosses she was expecting a child in 2018 and was unjustifiably questioned about her absence from work for antenatal appointments.

The Equality Commission supported her case, alleging unlawful discrimination because she was dismissed for a reason relating to her pregnancy and because she was treated adversely following the announcement.

Laura and her husband started work at McGrane Nurseries Ltd, Co Armagh, in January 2018 when she was given a blank contract to sign, specifically with no start or end dates.

She believed she was coming to Northern Ireland for a permanent job but at no point was she told that this was to be a seasonal job.

Later in the year, Laura announced her pregnancy to management, including showing a manager a letter stating the date of her first ante-natal appointments.

She was later called into a meeting and asked by managers to explain her absence, with accusations she ‘skipped work’ and would ‘need more days off’.

The Tribunal found that a manager was less friendly to Laura after she announced her pregnancy. Credit: Equality Commission

While the couple attended their 20-week scan in October 2018, their employers held a meeting with a group of seasonal workers who were given one week’s notice of termination.

The couple were subsequently called in to meet with their employers and were informed of their dismissal.

Laura took a discrimination case with the help of the Equality Commission, and an Industrial Tribunal found unanimously in Ms Gruzdaite’s favour, awarding her £27,917.60.

The Tribunal found that Laura was unjustifiably questioned about her absence on 14 September and 10 October 2018 when she had in fact told her manager that the purpose of her being off was for antenatal appointments.

The employer accepted that they failed to pay Laura for her time off attending the antenatal appointments.

The Tribunal also found that a manager was less friendly to Laura after she announced her pregnancy.

Laura’s husband has since found other work, while Laura cares for their baby.

Laura said: “On that day I got very upset because both of our contracts had been terminated. We were waiting for our child to come into this world but both of us were unemployed and had no additional income. When I returned to my place of work following this conversation, I felt nauseous, my hands were shaking, and I felt a dull pain and a stretching sensation in my stomach.”

“I have suffered a lot of stress following my dismissal from work and had to seek help from my doctor I was very worried that the stress could cause complications or even a miscarriage. We were in a very bad situation for a time and it is a great relief to me to have this all finished.I am very grateful to the Equality Commission for helping me. No woman should lose her job because she is pregnant and it is important that women challenge such treatment” she said.

The Equality Commission described the case as ‘all too common’ adding that the largest number of sex discrimination cases relate to pregnancy and maternal discrimination.

Dr Michael Wardlow, Chief Commissioner said: “It is dispiriting that we are at Tribunal once again supporting another case of pregnancy discrimination. I’m afraid this is still all too common and in spite of the legislation being in place for more than 40 years, some employers still seem to be unaware of the law and the consequences of breaching it.

He added: “Every year, around a quarter of all the complaints of discrimination made to our advice line are to do with sex discrimination. Of those, consistently the largest number, around 22% of the total are about pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

In a statement, McGrane Nurseries said: “We acknowledge the findings of the Equality Commission. We have engaged the services of a professional HR company who are assisting us, along with the Equality Commission, in implementing a series of policies and practices to ensure we meet the highest standards in relation to the issues highlighted in the judgement of this case.

“This situation should never have occurred. We apologise to Laura for the upset caused to both her and her family and hope that this ruling will allow them to move forward."