Pregnancy was a factor in firing, says panel

Ryan Ross
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Hotel ordered to pay $15,200 to employee fired while pregnant

Alison MacKinnon during her human rights panel hearing in December.

A woman who was fired after telling her bosses she was pregnant will get more than $15,000 in compensation.

The Human Rights Commission ruled Tuesday in favour of Alison MacKinnon’s complaint against Inn on the Hill after she was fired in October 2010.

MacKinnon’s bosses fired her 40 minutes after telling one of them she was pregnant.

In a written decision, the panel ruled MacKinnon’s pregnancy was a factor and Inn on the Hill management didn’t give a credible, non-discriminatory reason for dismissing her.

MacKinnon was hired as an administrative assistant, which included working the hotel’s front desk and she had worked there less than a month when she told her supervisor Tanya Bevan that she was pregnant.

Bevan and the general manager Roger Bevan called her back in to the office 40 minutes later to tell her she was fired.

Tanya and Roger testified they discussed firing MacKinnon the week before she told them she was pregnant and her dismissal was within her probationary period.

Several employees provided the panel with letters that corroborated their testimony, but panel chair Anne Nicholson wrote that she didn’t find those witnesses to be “particularly helpful.”

Neither of them were involved in training or supervising MacKinnon, Nicholson said and she added one of the employees’ testimony conflicted with information she provided during the complaint investigation.

MacKinnon testified her employer hadn’t given feedback about her performance and she didn’t get about any complaints about her work.

Tanya testified she didn’t discuss issues about MacKinnon’s work with her but thought she should have known how to do the job properly and how to dress appropriately.

In her decision, Nicholson wrote she didn’t doubt Tanya and Roger might have discussed firing MacKinnon before they found out she was pregnant.

Nicholson said Tanya testified that she didn’t think she had any responsibility to tell MacKinnon what she needed to do to prove herself.

That led to the conclusion Tanya thought there was something MacKinnon could have done to keep her job, Nicholson wrote.

In the ruling, Nicholson said employees have a reasonable expectation their employer will use some objective method for judging performance.

The panel decision also said employees are vulnerable during a probationary period and in this case more so because she was pregnant.

Nicholson wrote that although it might not have been Tanya or Roger’s intention to discriminate against MacKinnon their actions still had a discriminatory effect.

The fact MacKinnon was never told what she could do to keep her job and was fired soon after telling her employer she was pregnant show her pregnancy was a factor in the firing.

MacKinnon testified she didn’t look for work after she was fired because her pregnancy was showing and she didn’t think anyone would hire her.

Although she had planned to work up until the baby was born, MacKinnon had to start collecting maternity benefits early and only had six months of employment insurance while she was at home with the new baby.

At the time of the hearing, MacKinnon hadn’t found a full-time job and was delivering newspapers to earn money.

She testified that she felt her reputation was damaged by the things her former employers said about her.

MacKinnon sought $975 for two weeks of lost wages while she waited for her EI payments and more than $3,500 to make up the difference between her EI and what her wages would have been if she had been working.

She also asked for another three months of lost wages and $7,500 for hurt and humiliation.

The panel didn’t agree with all of MacKinnon’s compensation requests, but did order Inn on the Hill to pay her $15,206.

That included $3,500 for hurt and humiliation, $3,532 for the difference between EI and her wages, and $7,200 for a loss of EI benefits.

The panel ordered the Inn on the Hill manager, assistant manager and any other staff members who might be responsible for staff hiring or supervision to take human resources training.

rross@theguardian.pe.ca

Organizations: Inn on the Hill, Human Rights Commission

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Recent comments

  • Downtown Doug
    February 08, 2012 - 08:42

    The ruling has gone through, nuff about it. Now for employers who have staff that they are not happy with, please talk to them. I've been a manager for over 35 years and I've had bad bosses and bad staff. On the up side, I think the first 6 months probation is there for the new person and for the employer. If you can't see yourself fitting in, talk about it. For bosses, talk to your staff and let them know the expectations. For breaks, some give them some don't but you shouldn't grumble if you're not willing to talk to them about it. Some of the recent grads from University and HC do indeed need to be taught the soft skills of working with others and how to fit into a business's norms. If the clothing is a bit too much, politely bring it up. I've seen some pretty bad attire in businesses and it does matter when these people represent your business. Those that say it shouldn't matter... grow up or get your own busines.

  • It's not your grandma's island anymore
    February 08, 2012 - 08:07

    As in all comments on the Guardian site and others... Bevans or anyone else, this is the reality. PEI is not isolated anymore, you cannot treat ANYONE without the proper laws and protocols being followed. No wonder the outside world look's in wonder as to how this province exists as an entity. Move on, nothing to see here.

  • Ilokid
    February 08, 2012 - 07:33

    Once again, the abject Human Rights brigade have failed! Had this misbegotten woman been honest at the time of her initial interview, then this situation would not likely have happened. Instead, she lied to get a job, then dropped her bombshell shortly thereafter. During a probationary period, new employees can be terminated without cause, as long as the employer pays the requisite severance pay, which I assume was the case here. The panel appears to have already decided on its course of action before the case was reviewed, choosing to deny the input of other employees as not being 'particularly helpful'. It is my hope that other potential employees of Alison MacKinnon are made aware of her deception, and think twice before offering her employment.

  • Chad
    February 08, 2012 - 01:19

    Alison is a good friend of mine, so to answer some points that some have brought up; No she was not pregnant when she was hired. Yes, she did tell them she was pregnant the first chance she had after she found out (not afterwards, like some people suggested... they even admitted she told them beforehand). There ARE things that don't add up when you compare the two stories, this usually happens when one side isn't being honest. The reason the court ruled in Alison's favor is because even though the Inn "said" there were other reasons she was let go, they never actually brought up any of it to her until they said she was fired. Think of it this way, you get a job and don't do something correctly the first time without ever being told otherwise... is it fair for them to fire you without even giving you the chance to fix it? This isn't even something that was conflicting; they ADMITTED that they never gave her a chance to fix things, their response was "Oh, she should have known". It was complete BS. They just decided to fire her because they didn't want to deal with the pregnancy issue and were hoping she wouldn't pursue it... they were wrong. Keep in mind, not every single detail was given in the article. You're not reading the court transcript here, you're reading what the journalists thought was the relevant information when they wrote the story. Courts don't judge these things lightly, and they wouldn't have sided with Alison unless they were certain that she was in the right.

  • Gerry
    February 07, 2012 - 21:47

    What goes around, comes around. It's called justice. Kudos for Ms. MacKinnon in taking a stand, which you should not have been subjected to.

  • Maternity benefits
    February 07, 2012 - 20:53

    So, will Ms. MacKinnon have to repay her maternity benefits since she received compensation? I am a woman and I am very vocal about the rights of women (including maternity matters), but there is something fishy about this woman's story given the Bevans family has employed other pregnant women over the years. It seems to me that she was on a probationary period of employment and as I understand it, there were reasons she was let go, not to do with being pregnant. She likely revealed she was pregnant when she knew she was not going to be kept on. If she was fired with cause, no EI. She had to claim discrimination to collect benefits. Now I hope she pays it back.

    • A Brain
      February 08, 2012 - 18:50

      I suggest re-reading your post and then follow up with some light reading on what actually happened with this situation before you post a foolish comment. I won't explain, but if you can't figure it out, I wouldn't want you being vocal on my behalf. I'm certain you'd do more harm than good.

  • Michael Nesbitt
    February 07, 2012 - 20:13

    No statement from the doctor who confirmed the pregnancy. No indication of when the child was born. It was barely 5 weeks between the time she was interviewed and the time her pregnancy was confirmed, as she says she told her employer because her doctor had "just confirmed" that she was pregnant. Did she know or suspect she was pregnant when she was interviewed? Did the empolyer have all the necessary information to make a good hiring decision? (Not that it seemed they had a very strong interview process in any case). One has to ask if it is fair to keep hidden from a prospective employer information of imminent circumstances that would cause one to leave work, in this case for pregnancy but alternatively for expected medical treatments of any sort, such as cancer chemotherapy/radiation, etc. There is some serious lack of information being revealed here, which makes the employer look "blatantly" guilty of discrimination.

    • Islander
      February 07, 2012 - 23:24

      A woman is not required to inform her employer about a pregnancy until/unless it requires accommodations (or, obviously, for her to go on mat leave), and an employer is not allowed to ask. It is not permitted for an employer to ask a woman if she is pregnant in an interview, or at any other time. A woman can volunteer the information if she chooses. Beyond that, most women find out they are pregnant around 5 weeks, which is actually only three weeks after conception (as pregnancy is counted from the last menstrual period) so it is entirely likely she was not pregnant when she was hired. Even if she was, she would be under no obligation whatsoever to inform her employer. The fact that she did inform them - likely as a courtesy, as I have done for my employers - does not permit the employer to terminate her. Equally, an employee is not required to disclose any details of any medical condition. Should they require accommodations (I.e. time off work for treatment, seating following surgery) their physician can inform their employer of what is necessary, but cannot disclose the illness being treated. Employees have a right to privacy, and those rules exist to prevent discrimination such as Ms. macKinnon experienced.

    • TO Michael Nesbitt
      February 08, 2012 - 08:59

      Actually everything in your comment is a moot point. Or are you actually saying you know more than the Human Rights Commission? Your conspiracy theory just doesn't wash....so give it up.

  • MO
    February 07, 2012 - 19:06

    .. I too, was "let go" ... working an 8 hour shift, you are entitled to one half hour(30mins) break, by labor laws..... I was there for 9.... and was "let go" for taking that break... I was not told EVER by any person that we were not " allowed" to take breaks during shift.... Against the LAW my "hill" friends.... Also, I forgot to mention.. that the smokers of the bunch, got to go outside, 3 -4 sometimes 5 times during shift... sooo me being a non smoker.. I didn't get to do that.. guess i should have been smokin'... meh...... I didn't go any further with it.. on the fact I was quitting within a few weeks anyhow, because of the unfair treatment.... Just a fair place to be employed if you ask me... I'm glad she got something in return.. but it doesn't fix anything.

  • Mary Ellen Smit
    February 07, 2012 - 18:04

    It is hard to say who is not being totally honest here... But if Mackinnon is actually crying wow is me. she will pay for this big time as time goes on.. Way tooo many and tooo easy to cry ,.DISCRIMINATION NOW...and it is obvious that it is not easy that any judge or anybody really, know whta and why and how this played out. God is the only one that really knows the truth here....

  • Local Citizen
    February 07, 2012 - 17:07

    Knowing that the Bevans take their business very seriously, if someone isn't performing to their expectations, they are not kept on any longer, wasting valuable business time. I know of 2 women who are currently employed there, both in their second trimester, and are in no danger of losing their job.

  • Home From Away
    February 07, 2012 - 16:51

    MacKinnon should have received more than what the judge decided to give her. In fact the Inn On The Hill should continue paying her salary until she can find a comparable job/salary. Unfortunately we have employers who are still in the dark ages. It probably cost the Inn On The Hill tens of thousands of dollars to defend themselves on this stupid matter. Hopefully the Department of Labour will do spot audits on the Inn On The Hill with regards to their human resources practices. As I frequent visitor to PEI, I will never, never...stay at the Inn On The Hill.

  • Sherwood
    February 07, 2012 - 15:36

    Friend of the Bevans, I totally agree with the pregnant women about being fired, but I have known most of the Bevans a very long time and this just doesn't seem like something they would do being family people themselves.

    • Charlottetown
      February 07, 2012 - 17:51

      If you agree that she was fired within 40 minutes of telling her boss,how can you be shocked that the Bevans would do it? According to the testimony that was shown in this case, I think they are exactly the kind of people that the commission thinks they are.This is one of the first decisions that I wholeheartedly agree with. Good for Ms MacKinnon for not letting them treat her like dirt.

  • Women in PEI
    February 07, 2012 - 14:49

    I'm glad to see the outcome of this situation. People who discriminate againist women for being pregnant and firing them for being pregnant is not right. Glad to see this young mother getting money from that company for what they did which was wrong for judging.