A young bakery assistant who was sacked because she was pregnant has been awarded more than £20,000.
Nicola McNamee was dismissed by Melting Moments home bakery in Fermanagh a week after telling her employers that she was having a baby. She was told: "Some women are better off on the dole."
A tribunal concluded the reason for her dismissal was that she had fallen pregnant.
It awarded Ms McNamee compensation totalling £23,288 after ruling she had been subjected to sex discrimination because of her pregnancy and unfairly dismissed.
The 24-year-old – now mother to a little girl called Melissa Rose – said it was a distressing experience.
"I was worried because I was pregnant and suddenly I didn't have a job. How would I provide for my baby and for myself? It was awful," she told the Belfast Telegraph.
Ms McNamee began working with Melting Moments, based in Lisnaskea, on February 8 last year, but was dismissed just two months later on April 11.
She had been interviewed in January by Millie McWilliams and Ken Neely from the bakery.
The tribunal heard that during the interview Ms McWilliams told her that she did not want her to get married or pregnant within the next year.
However, on March 26 Ms McNamee discovered she was expecting a child. She informed her employer during a meeting on April 5.
The tribunal heard that during the meeting, Ms McWilliams said that "some women are better off on the dole" and urged Ms McNamee to consider whether she wanted to stay on.
Ms McNamee said she had a series of meetings or discussions with her employer over the following week.
On Monday, April 8 she said she was asked to do another woman's job, which involved heavier work. The following day Ms McWilliams asked if she had thought any more about the previous conversation. Ms McNamee said she was happy to stay on.
The following day she was summoned to another meeting where Ms McWilliams alleged that her work was too slow and she would be let go. Ms McWilliams and Mr Neely denied that any meetings took place on these dates. However, the tribunal ruled Ms McNamee had been a more persuasive witness.
It said Ms McWilliams or Mr Neely were "frequently imprecise, vague (and) contradictory".
In their decision the Tribunal said it was "satisfied that the reason for (Ms McNamee's) dismissal was that she had become pregnant."
It also said it was "not persuaded that the dismissal of the claimant related to her conduct or competence or performance".
Ms McNamee added: "I was delighted when I got the job and believed that it would be long-term.
"I was told it would take about six months to get me up to speed with the job.
"Around the end of March I found out I was pregnant and I spoke to one of the owners at the start of April and told her about it.
"She suggested that I think about whether it was best for me to continue working or if I'd be better off leaving.
"I didn't want to leave, I was happy to work and I was devastated when I was dismissed a week later.
"I am glad the Tribunal has found in my favour and now I just want to get on with my life with my little daughter."
The bakery has been ordered to pay Ms McNamee £7,500 for injury to her feelings and £15,788 in compensation for loss of earnings.
Her case was backed by the Equality Commission.
The Belfast Telegraph made several attempts to contact Melting Moments Bakery but nobody was available for comment.
Sex discrimination remains one of the main issues of complaint to the Equality Commission, topped only by disability discrimination complaints. The single biggest area of complaint under sex discrimination law is pregnancy discrimination. Woman have alleged less favourable treatment because of pregnancy at all stages of employment – from recruitment and promotion in the workforce, through terms and conditions, to unfair selection for redundancy or dismissals.
In her own words... Nicola on her upsetting experience
"I had gone to an interview for a job with Melting Moments Bakery and, during the interview, I was told that I really shouldn't become pregnant or even get married in the next year.
"I got the job and was happy. I enjoyed the work. A few weeks passed, and I found out I was pregnant.
"I told the manager about it and was advised that I could be better off on the dole, or on benefits. I was given a week to decide if I wanted to be paid off.
"The full week hadn't even passed when I was asked had I thought any more about it.
"I said that I was quite happy to stay on.
"The following day I was taken into the office and told my next day would be my last. They said it was to do with my work and lack of interest – to me that was just an excuse. I had been given a choice about staying on, but in reality I had no choice.
"It seemed they wanted me to leave, but that isn't what I wanted.
"It was very upsetting. I was worried because I was pregnant and suddenly I didn't have a job. How would I provide for my baby and for myself? It was awful.
"I didn't think this type of discrimination would happen in today's society.
"Unfortunately, as my case proved, it still does."