Melbourne firm dismissed employee because she was pregnant, judge finds

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A pregnant woman, in the last trimester of her pregnancy, poses in this illustration photo in Sete, South France, March 26, 2016.
A pregnant woman, in the last trimester of her pregnancy, poses in this illustration photo in Sete, South France, March 26, 2016. Reuters/Regis Duvignau

A judge has found that the main reason a Melbourne real estate firm dismissed a female employee was that she was pregnant. Judge Heather Riley reportedly found that Tiffany Mahajan, who had worked as an administrative assistant at Burgess Rawson, was dismissed because she was momentarily absent from work on account of illness and took an annual and personal leave.

The Federal Circuit Court heard that Mahajan had informed her boss about her pregnancy as well as her intended dates to take a maternity leave. She took seven days of sick leave in addition to four days of annual leave due to medical appointments and morning sickness.

Mahajan also told the court she had been “five to ten minutes late” for work on some days. She blamed the public transport delays, but said she would make up time at the end of the day.

Her boss Tim Perrin allegedly found these as reasons to fire her, the court heard. “It beggars belief that Mr Perrin would have said that the applicant’s employment had become unreliable on the basis that she was a little late for work on six or seven occasions in a three-month period, in combination with some formatting issues that he had not previously raised with her in a formal manner,” Her Honour said in a written decision.

Perrin has reacted about the outcome of the case, telling news.com.au that he was “disappointed.” He said he would decide whether to appeal once the court had assessed the amount of damages the company would need to pay Mahajan.

Australian employment laws protect employees from being sacked due to pregnancy, taking leaves or being temporarily absent from work due to illness, leaving companies that do so open to being required to pay compensation. Mahajan has reportedly worked as an administrative assistant for the firm for nearly six months. She was told she was being let go as she was “unreliable.”

The company has told the court of the issues about her competency in ensuring consistency in valuation figures and formatting valuation reports. Minutes from a directors meeting in 2016 presented in court detailed a discussion about other staff members with performance issues, along with a note about Mahajan which reads, “6 months 6 June, situation needs to be dealt with.”

But Her Honour rejected the claim that Mahajan’s “lateness” was talked about at the meeting. She did not find Perrin and his fellow director’s evidence to be convincing.

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