Woman receives €42,000 for language school treatment

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A Colombian woman who worked at an English-language college in Dublin has been awarded more than €42,000 after complaining of victimization, racial discrimination and unpaid commissions.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has ruled in favor of Melissa Angarita Cardenas in an action against her former employer, SEDA College.

Among the findings of the contractor, Marie Flynn, was that Ms Cardenas had been treated less favorably than two other staff members who shared Brazilian and Venezuelan nationality with members of management.

“It appears from the evidence adduced by the plaintiff that [two named women]who were of the same nationality as the members of management continued to work during the lockdown, while the complainant, who was of a different nationality, did not,” Ms Flynn said.

“The Complainant has demonstrated that she was treated less favorably than [the two women] was when they were in a situation comparable to that of the plaintiff within the meaning of the laws. The only difference between the complainant and the comparators was that the comparators were of a different race.”

Ms Cardenas was awarded a total of €42,849 for what the commission said were eight “substantiated” complaints, which were opposed by a “work of fiction” by her employers over an unpaid commission.

Ms Cardenas held several positions at the college including reception, marketing and student support from October 3, 2016 until her resignation on July 21, 2021.

Regarding the larger award of €20,000 for her victimization claim, the committee decided that SEDA had been notified of her claim to the WRC while she was on sick leave.

Ms Cardenas alleged she was then repeatedly victimized from February 2020 when she returned to work.

The WRC had learned that Ms Cardenas had returned to find her email account blocked and that it had remained blocked until her resignation.

She had argued that it was a way for the college management to obstruct her case before the WRC and that it negatively impacted her ability to prepare for her hearing.

Outlining Ms Cardenas’ complaint in her written decision, Adjudicator Marie Flynn said: “On the same day, when she [Ms Cardenas] was alone at the front desk, HR Director Stephen Murphy and CEO Tiago Mascarenhas approached her when she finished printing some documents and put them in her personal bag, as she did not have locker at his place of work.”

“The complainant claims that they both approached her in a very intimidating and threatening manner.”

“The CEO stood very close to her, blocking her only exit. The HR manager asked her if she had printed any documents belonging to the respondent.”

“The Complainant replied that she was printing materials for a meeting on February 18, 2020, which would help her respond to the allegations against her and that she would be able to prove that no interruptions had been caused during her sick leave because her colleagues and other departments had the same access to the computer system and shared data as her.”

Ms Cardenas told the WRC that the human resources manager informed her in a ‘hostile’ way that she was not authorized to print the data of the offending organization and remove it from the building.

She also said that the HR manager and the CEO threatened her saying that she would be penalized because she was committing a crime under the GDPR legislation.

The Respondent argued that it was entitled to investigate the sending of information, in particular sensitive data for the purposes of the Data Protection Act and GDPR and/or printing thereof by the Complainant.

The grievor was suspended with pay and there was no prejudice as alleged.

Ms Cardenas argued she had been the victim of ‘unfavourable treatment’ by the college, which left her ‘stressed and intimidated’ because she had filed a discrimination complaint with the WRC.

Ms Flynn said: “In the absence of any persuasive evidence from the respondent, it is not possible for me to determine whether there was any other reason for the adverse treatment other than the reason offered by the Accordingly, I conclude that there is a causal link between the submission of the complaint referral form to the WRC by the complainant and the alleged adverse treatment.”

“I find this complaint of victimization to be well-founded and I order the defendant to pay the plaintiff €20,000,” she said.

In relation to the complaint that Ms Cardenas was treated less favorably than others because of her race, Ms Flynn awarded her €10,000.

In her decision, Ms Flynn also wrote that the respondent had submitted a “work of fiction” in an attempt to prove that Ms Cardenas had received all of the money owed to her.

“At the June 13, 2022 hearing, the Respondent submitted a spreadsheet purporting to show the amount of commission due to the Complainant and the dates it was paid. In my opinion, which I have shared with the respondent at the hearing, this spreadsheet is a complete work of fiction,” she wrote.

“Among the errors that emerge from even the most cursory assessment are the following: the spreadsheet shows entries relating to the years 1900, 1902 and 1904; there is no consistency between the headings of column and the data contained in the columns; and there are handwritten entries on the worksheets.”

Ms Cardenas was subsequently awarded an additional sum of €12,849 in respect of her separate claims of unpaid commission, change of contract terms, subsequent no contract and penalty, which in total amounted to €42,849 €.

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