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A woman fired the day after she told her boss she was pregnant has been awarded $11,000 by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal for discrimination.
The ruling, handed down in August, illustrates that while you can fire a pregnant employee for poor performance, or as part of a general downsizing, courts and tribunals will also typically give the dismissed woman the benefit of the doubt.
The employer BNA Smart Payment Systems Ltd. is based in Aurora, Ontario and provides clients with terminals for processing credit card or debit card transactions plus training and technical support.
In May 200 BNA hired Pauline Prabhjot Kooner-Rilcof as their western sales representative. Kooner-Rilcof had also been offered a job at a U.S. bank, but accepted the BNA job because it paid more and she viewed the position as long-term.
Her employment contract said she could be fired at any time without cause or advance notice. It also said she could quit without notice.
In 2009 BNA fired three sales people in Aurora as the economy deteriorated. Company president Matthew Moore assured Kooner-Rilcof he was committed to developing the business in B.C.
In February 2010 she was promoted to VP of Sales for Western Canada and through July 2010 received emails with positive feedback. In July, a company approached her and offered her a job for a second time, but she turned it down again. She knew she was pregnant and thought her position with BNA was secure.
On September 15, 2010, Kooner-Rilcof told Moore she was expecting a baby and would be taking maternity leave starting sometime in late December or early January.
The next morning Moore told her in a telephone call that BNA was closing its B.C. operations. She was fired with two weeks’ pay in lieu of notice. At the tribunal, Moore denied that he fired Kooner-Rilcof because she was pregnant, insisting it was simply a matter of economics.
The tribunal disagreed and decided that her pregnancy was the operative reason for her dismissal. She had no warning, no history of negative feedback and had recently been promoted. Although the company later closed the B.C. operation, the company did not provide “a non-discriminatory”explanation for terminating her as soon as they learned of her pregnancy.
The Tribunal awarded Kooner-Rilcof two more weeks of pay and lost commissions worth $3,125 and an additional $8.000 for injury.