A British Columbia woman has been awarded $11,000 by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal after her employer fired her one day after she told her boss she was pregnant.
Pauline Prabhjot Kooner-Rilcof was hired by BNA Smart Payment Systems, a debit and credit processing company based in Aurora, Ont., in 2009 to develop its business in B.C. In May 2010, she was promoted to vice-president of sales for Western Canada.
Kooner-Rilcof thrived in her new position and her boss, the president of BNA, called her “our top salesperson in Western Canada” in July 2010.
A couple of months after her promotion, Kooner-Rilcof turned down a job offer from another company because things were going well with BNA. She was also expecting a baby and didn’t think it would be a good time for a change.
On Sept. 15, 2010, Kooner-Rilcof called the BNA president to tell him she was pregnant and would be going on maternity leave in about three months. The next day, the president called her to tell her BNA was closing its B.C. operations because its business was decreasing, and her employment was being terminated. Her work email was closed and she was given two weeks’ pay in lieu of notice.
Kooner-Rilcof spoke to three sales representatives she had hired — who were not terminated — and noted that BNA was advertising for positions across Canada, including B.C. She filed a human rights complaint, accusing BNA of discrimination based on her sex and claiming she suffered from depression as a result of her termination.
BNA’s president claimed Kooner-Rilcof’s pregnancy had nothing to do with her dismissal and the decision to terminate her employment was made at least two weeks before she called him with the news. The dismissal was prompted by the company’s poor financial performance by August 2010, the president said, and the reason he waited to tell her was because he wanted to tell her in person. When he couldn’t, he was going to send another executive in his place but Kooner-Rilcoff’s call came before he could make the arrangements, he said.
The tribunal agreed that the evidence showed BNA’s business was suffering in B.C. and it was looking to cut costs. However, the company failed to prove that firing Kooner-Rilcoff the day after her pregnancy was unrelated to the pregnancy. She had received no warning that her employment was in jeopardy and she was a key employee with a discipline-free record. It was likely that Kooner-Rilcoff’s announcement that she would be going on leave during a traditionally slow period for the industry prompted the decision to shut down the B.C. operation at that time, said the tribunal.
In her complaint, Kooner-Rilcoff asked for four months’ salary, commission and benefits plus damages for injury to dignity and mental stress, totalling almost $50,000. However, the tribunal ordered BNA to pay her two weeks’ salary and commission — $3,125 — since it found there was no guarantee she would have stayed with BNA if she hadn’t been pregnant, as she had received other job offers and her employment contract stipulated her employment could be terminated at any time. BNA was also ordered to pay $8,000 in general damages for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect.
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