Record penalties imposed in pregnancy discrimination matter

8 November 2013

The operators of a chain of Victorian discount retail stores have been fined a record total of $53,592 for discriminating against a pregnant employee.

Felix Corporation Pty Ltd - which operates GV Bargains stores throughout regional Victoria, including two stores at Shepparton - has been fined $40,920.

The company's owner-managers Feiyue Hu and Jian Ping Hu, of Shepparton, have been fined a further $7,656 and $5,016 respectively.

In addition, Felix Corporation has paid the employee $7,197 for economic and non-economic loss suffered and apologised to her.

The penalties, imposed in the Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne, are the highest secured by the Fair Work Ombudsman for a legal action relating to discrimination.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said the Court's decision sends a message that failing to respect the rights of pregnant employees is a serious matter.

"It is the responsibility of employers to make sure they are aware of their obligations under workplace laws and that they treat workers fairly," Ms James said.

"We want to increase awareness that discriminating against pregnant women is a serious breach of workplace laws and won't be tolerated."

The affected employee, a part-time shop assistant at a GV Bargains store at Shepparton, was discriminated against between December, 2010 and April, 2011.

After the employee, then aged 22, told her employer she was pregnant, she was directed to take two weeks of unpaid leave.

When she refused, her rostered hours were cut from an average of 26 hours to less than 10 a week - and she was told to look for another job when she asked for more hours of work.

Mrs Hu told the employee it was a tradition that women in China do not work when they are pregnant and that she did not want her working at the store.

The employee was asked to obtain medical certificates on two occasions stating that she was "suitable" to work at the store. After complying with these requests, the employee was offered some additional hours of work but ultimately resigned in what amounted to a constructive dismissal.

The conduct breached the discrimination provisions of workplace laws.

Under the Fair Work Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against employees on the grounds of pregnancy, race, colour, sex, sexual preference, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer responsibilities, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.

Discriminatory behaviour can include dismissing an employee, threatening to dismiss an employee, reducing an employee's hours, denying training and promotion opportunities or refusing to employ, promote or train an employee.

The penalties imposed in the case also relate to contraventions of workplace laws relating to keeping employment records, complying with a Notice to Produce records and obtaining written agreements for part-time employees.

It is the fifth time the Fair Work Ombudsman has secured penalties in a legal action relating to pregnancy discrimination.

The operators of a Victorian aged care facility were earlier this year fined a total of $30,888 for discriminating against an employee when she attempted to return from maternity leave (see: Fines imposed over treatment of employee seeking to return from maternity leave).

The former operator of a mobile phone business was fined $5940 last year for discriminating against a Geelong employee when she attempted to return from parental leave (see: Phone retailer fined almost $6000 over discrimination against new Mum).

The former owner-operators of a Sydney printing business were fined $23,760 and ordered to pay $2,207 compensation last year for committing sex and pregnancy discrimination breaches by demoting and mistreating an employee after she told them she was pregnant (see: Court imposes $23,000 penalty over sex and pregnancy discrimination).

The operator of a Perth child care centre was last year fined $13,200 and ordered to pay $5000 compensation to an employee it pressured into resigning after she became pregnant (see: Operator of Perth child care centre fined over pregnancy discrimination).

Employers and employees seeking assistance should visit www.fairwork.gov.au or contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94. A free interpreter service is available by calling 13 14 50.

Media inquiries:

Penny Rowe, Media & Stakeholder Relations
0457 924 146
penelope.rowe@fwo.gov.au

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