Fired pregnant employee victim of discrimination: Tribunal

Pregnant hotel night clerk fired for unreliability after falling ill at work and going to the hospital
||Last Updated: 12/07/2010

A British Columbia hotel discriminated against a pregnant employee when it fired her after she had to leave her shift to go the hospital, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has ruled.

Amanda Sutton was a night clerk at the Best Western Tower Inn in Quesnel, B.C., working the hotel’s front desk and overseeing its administration from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. four days a week. The day she was hired in March 2009, Sutton found out she was pregnant.

On May 15, 2009, Sutton began to feel sick midway through her shift, around 3:15 a.m. She felt dizzy and passed out briefly in the bathroom. Once she was able to get up, she called the nurse’s health line and was told to go to the emergency room at the hospital.

Sutton called the hotel’s general manager and explained the situation, waiting until the general manager arrived before leaving so the hotel wasn’t left without staff on duty. The general manager asked Sutton to call once she knew what was going on. At the hospital, the doctor ran some tests and told Sutton she shouldn’t go back to work until the results came back, which would take a few days.

Sutton went home about 5:30 a.m. but forgot to call the general manager as she was concerned about a possible miscarriage and not thinking about work. When she woke up the next afternoon, she called and left a message.

When the general manager called back, Sutton explained why she forgot to call earlier and what her situation was. However, the general manager wasn’t pleased, told Sutton she hadn’t been courteous and terminated Sutton’s employment. Sutton filed a human rights complaint claiming discrimination because of her pregnancy.

The inn denied it fired Sutton because of her pregnancy, claiming the termination was because of her unreliability. It said it made it clear to Sutton when she was hired it needed a reliable person for the night shift job because it was difficult to cover on short notice. However, of the 28 shifts she had worked, she was absent for one full shift and three partials, including the night she went to the hospital plus two other times when she went home early claiming she wasn’t feeling well.

The inn also said Sutton was on a three-month probationary period and it was exercising its right to terminate her employment because it wasn’t working out.

The tribunal found though the inn may have been concerned with Sutton’s performance, it didn’t give her any warnings nor notify her that her job was at risk. The main reason for the firing was Sutton’s failure to call in to update the inn on her status, which followed a pregnancy-related illness, said the tribunal. As a result, Sutton’s pregnancy was a factor in her termination, which was contrary to the B.C. Human Rights Code.

“It was Ms. Sutton’s pregnancy that led her need for emergency medical care which, in turn, led to the events that caused the (general manager) to terminate her,” said the tribunal. “Had Ms. Sutton not been pregnant events would not have unfolded as they did.”

The tribunal found the inn’s need for a reliable night clerk was rationally connected to its business and it tried to uphold this need in good faith. However, the tribunal found the inn failed to consider accommodation of Sutton’s health issues arising out of her pregnancy. Despite the inn’s lack of intent to discriminate, it still discriminated against Sutton because of her pregnancy, the tribunal said.

“(The general manager) held Ms. Sutton to a standard that she herself would have met but she failed to take into account Ms. Sutton’s specific circumstances and to modify her standard, short of undue hardship,” said the tribunal.

The inn was ordered to pay Sutton $4,000 for part of her lost wages and maternity leave benefits for the period until she found new employment in September 2009, plus $2,500 for injury to her dignity, feelings and self-respect.

For more information see:

•Sutton v. Best Western Tower Inn (No. 2), 2010 BCHRT 314 (B.C. Human Rights Trib.).

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