September 26, 2022

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A woman who worked at an English-language college in Dublin has been awarded more than €42,000 after she complained about victimisation, racial discrimination and unpaid commissions.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) decided in favour of Melissa Angarita Cardenas, a Colombian national, in an action against her former employer, SEDA College.

Among the findings by adjudicating officer Marie Flynn was that Ms Cardenas was treated less favourably than two other staff who shared Brazilian and Venezuelan nationality with members of management.

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

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

‘Work of fiction’

Ms Cardenas was awarded a total of €42,849 for what the WRC said were eight “well-founded” complaints which had been opposed by a “work of fiction” from her employers regarding one unpaid commission.

The claimant worked in a number of roles at the college including reception, marketing and student support from October 3rd, 2016, until she resigned on July 21st of last year.

Regarding the largest award of €20,000 for her victimisation complaint, the commission decided that SEDA College had been notified of Ms Cardenas’ complaint to the WRC while she was on sick-leave.

Ms Cardenas alleged she was afterwards repeatedly victimised from February 2020 when she recommenced work. The WRC heard that she returned to find her email account blocked and that it remained blocked until she resigned. She had submitted that this was a way for college management to obstruct her case to the WRC and that this impacted negatively on her ability to prepare for her hearing.

She submitted that she was subjected to “adverse treatment” by the college, which left her feeling “stressed and intimidated” because she had submitted a complaint of discrimination to the WRC.

Complaint of victimisation

In her ruling, Ms Flynn said: “In the absence of any persuasive evidence from the respondent, it is not possible for me to determine if there was another reason for the adverse treatment other than the reason proposed by the complainant. Accordingly, I find that there is a causal connection between the submission of the complaint referral form to the WRC by the complainant and the alleged adverse treatment.

“I find that this complaint of victimisation is well-founded and I direct the respondent to pay the complainant €20,000,” she said.

In relation to the complaint that Ms Cardenas was treated less favourably than others due to 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 attempting to prove that Ms Cardenas had been paid the entirety of the money owed to her. Ms Cardenas was further awarded €12,849 regarding her separate complaints of unpaid commission, terms of contract change, a later lack of a contract and of penalisation.

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