Equality enforcers deal with first complaints

Complaint from woman fired after revealing she was pregnant “unsubstantiated”

Cayman’s gender equality enforcement unit received three discrimination complaints in its first year including one from a woman who was sacked two weeks after telling her employer she was pregnant.

The complaint, filed in December 2012, was thrown out by the Gender Equality Tribunal after a hearing in May this year, according to its annual report for 2012/2013.

The woman’s employers produced emails at the hearing to demonstrate that they were unhappy with her performance and had been discussing replacing her before she revealed she was pregnant, according to a full summary of the evidence posted on the tribunal’s web page. Two other complaints, including another allegation of discrimination because of pregnancy, were filed but had not been dealt with by the time the annual report was written.

The second complaint was also from a woman who claimed to have had her career ambitions thwarted because she was pregnant. That case was due to be heard in September 2013 but the result is not recorded in the report or detailed online.

The third complaint – an allegation of gender discrimination in the workplace – was withdrawn before it reached the tribunal.

The tribunal was established in 2012 to adjudicate complaints under the new Gender Equality Law.

The law made it illegal for employers to ask female job candidates about their pregnancy status or future family plans and gave legal recourse to employees who believed they had been sexually harassed or discriminated against on the basis of gender.
The tribunal has the power to award damages of up to $20,000 if it decides that discrimination has been proved.

The first complaint, and the only one dealt with by the panel in the time span covered by the report, was heard in May.

The woman, who had been with the company since July 2012, told the tribunal she was sacked on Nov. 9 of the same year after informing her employer she was pregnant on Oct. 25. The employer, whose name is redacted in the summary, accepted that it had initially expressed satisfaction with her performance and she had not been given any written warnings prior to being dismissed.

But they claimed she had been given verbal warnings and provided email evidence that they were having “serious doubts about keeping her on” in September – a month before she revealed she was pregnant. There was no evidence provided to suggest that the employer suspected she was pregnant at the time the emails were written. The summary concludes: “Based on the evidence presented, the Tribunal determined that it could not, on the balance of probabilities, objectively conclude that the complainant’s employment was terminated due to her pregnancy.

“The Tribunal also found that the complainant was neither frivolous nor vexatious in her complaint but that her complaint was founded on her genuine and reasonable, albeit unsubstantiated, belief that she had been terminated on the basis of her pregnancy.”

As well as hearing complaints, the annual report says the tribunal also produced a complaint form, a frequently asked questions guide and comprehensive policies and procedures manual to assist the general public in understanding how it works.

Chairperson Sheridan Brooks-Hurst said, “The Gender Equality Tribunal has now adopted the policies and procedures required for effective functioning of the complaints process under the Gender Equality Law. We encourage members of the general public, as well as employers, to learn about their rights and responsibilities under the law and how a complaint can be made to the tribunal, which is established to be accessible and independent in its activities.”

Minister for Gender Affairs Tara Rivers said, “Discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, pregnancy or gender is illegal, and I encourage those who have been discriminated against to take the necessary actions to bring their complaints to the [Gender Equality Tribunal].”