Accountant Ruth Parks demoted then made redundant after maternity leave settles case for £50k
A woman who lost her job after having a baby has settled a sex discrimination case for £50,000.
Ruth Parks was left devastated after she was made redundant after returning to work with Noonan Services Group following maternity leave.
She took a case against the company with the support of the Equality Commission.
It has now been settled, with Mrs Parks receiving £50,000.
She said: "I was devastated by the way I was treated when I returned to work.
"I felt I had to take action, not just for my own situation, but so that the same thing doesn't happen to somebody else."
Mrs Parks, from Tandragee, worked as a finance manager for a company which was taken over by Noonan Services Group in 2009.
She had wide-ranging accounting duties in Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Before going on maternity leave in 2013, her duties were reallocated across the team.
Mrs Parks claimed she was reassured that she would not be made redundant, and that her job was safe.
However, when she restarted work, she alleged she had a minimal list of duties.
She said her name had been removed from the finance organisation chart and two new accountants had been appointed.
Mrs Parks said the hours of a colleague who had taken over some of her duties had been increased. A grievance case was not upheld, and she lost the appeal.
The case took a fresh twist when a series of redundancy consultation meetings were held and Mrs Parks was notified that she had been selected for redundancy.
Her appeal against this was also dismissed. She was offered an alternative position within the organisation which she did not consider acceptable.
She also alleged she was not considered for a post for which she was well suited that came up while she was on maternity leave.
Mrs Parks added: "When I went off on maternity leave I was happy and felt reassured that I was a valued and respected member of the team.
"My family life is also hugely important to me and I wanted to have more children. On my return to work it looked to me like I was being painted out of the picture.
"I could not resume my normal duties and I felt demeaned by the changes."
Noonan operates across Great Britain, Northern Ireland, the Republic and the Isle of Man, and employs more than 14,000 people.
The company expressed its regret for any distress and upset Mrs Parks suffered.
It affirmed its commitment to equality of opportunity in employment. It said that it will meet the Equality Commission to review its policies, practices and procedures on pregnancy and maternity.
Dr Evelyn Collins from the Equality Commission said Mrs Parks' case was not unique.
"Next year it will be 40 years since the Sex Discrimination Order came into operation, yet a high proportion, generally around a quarter of the complaints which the Commission receives every year, are about sex discrimination and the area of pregnancy and maternity discrimination consistently generates the highest number of these complaints," she said.
The Equality Commission is conducting a formal investigation on the treatment of pregnant workers and mothers in workplaces in Northern Ireland, which is due to report in 2016.
Dr Collins added: "Despite all the advances which have been made, women will not have full equality in the workplace if they remain liable to lose their jobs because they become pregnant or can be treated unfairly on their return from maternity leave.
"All employers must recognise that women have a right to be treated fairly on returning to work after the birth of a child."
A spokesman for Noonan Services Group said the company deeply regrets Mrs Parks' experience.
"While it disputes some of the details surrounding Mrs Parks' departure, it has reviewed its policies to ensure that all employees continue to be offered as much encouragement and support to further their careers with the group as possible," it said.
"The group says it is happy to continue to engage with the Equality Commission and awaits its recommendations."