REGARDED as Ireland’s most “right-on” newspaper, The Irish Times has fallen foul of equality legislation. It has been censured at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) for discriminating against a sub-editor who was paid less after she returned from maternity leave.
In a ruling published this month, The Irish Times is found to have discriminated against the worker on the grounds of her family status.
The WRC ruled that the sub-editor’s “rolling” three-month contract should have been extended on the same terms while she was on maternity leave. An adjudication officer ordered The Irish Times to pay her a total of €9,000, including €6,500 wages and €2,500 compensation for “the personal distress and anxiety caused by the discrimination”.
He said the figure reflected the fact that the woman was not dismissed but resigned voluntarily after her shift rate was cut following her return from maternity leave.
The WRC official also ordered the newspaper’s management to review how it handles part-time workers or those on temporary contracts, “with a particular reference to a pregnancy situation”.
The newspaper, which was not named in the WRC ruling, declined to comment. Its journalists are expected to abide by a series of guiding principles, including fostering “the progressive achievement of social justice between people and the discouragement of discrimination of all kinds”. The identity of the subeditor who took the case was not published. Since 2015, parties involved in WRC hearings are not named, although they can be identified if findings go to appeal.
The sub-editor began working with The Irish Times in March 2010 on a casual contract. She left in 2012 to take up a position in another company but returned in 2014 to a more senior role. She said she was given only a threemonth contract because the newspaper had imposed a recruitment embargo “due to difficult trading conditions”. This contract “rolled over” in three-month cycles. When she went on maternity leave in 2015, she was on a grade 2 contract, paid €275 per shift.
The sub-editor claimed that a male employee who was recruited while she was on maternity leave was “promoted over” her.
She had been informed by the human resources department that she would be paid €275 per shift when she returned, but on her first day back was effectively demoted to a “grade 1 casual employee” and paid €234 per shift.
The newspaper denied telling the employee that she would return on the same grade.
She also claimed in evidence that the newspaper was favouring male employees, or female employees without young children, over those with young families.
In response, The Irish Times claimed the woman’s status as a “grade 2” employee finished while she was on maternity leave. A meeting was held in April 2016 between the employee, her solicitor and human resources, but “no progress was recorded”. She resigned later that evening.
The WRC adjudication officer said this suggested she had not given “lengthy consideration” to “resolution suggestions”.
The newspaper said its decision not to renew the sub-editor’s grade 2 position was due to “ongoing editorial digital and print reorganisation” and denied she was discriminated against on the grounds of gender or family status.