Pregnancy was a factor in firing, says panel

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

Ryan Ross rross@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on February 7, 2012
Alison MacKinnon during her human rights panel hearing in December.
Guardian photo

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