A Colombian woman who worked at an English-language college in Dublin has been awarded more than €42,000 after she complained of victimisation, racial discrimination and unpaid commissions.
The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) decided in favour of Melissa Angarita Cardenas in an action against her former employer, SEDA College.
Among the findings by the adjudicating officer, Marie Flynn, was that Ms Cardenas was treated less favourably than two other staff members 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."
Ms Cardenas was awarded a total of €42,849 for what the commission said were eight "well-founded" complaints, that were opposed by a "work of fiction" from her employers regarding one unpaid commission.
Ms Cardenas worked in a number of roles at the college including reception, marketing, and student support from 3 October, 2016, until she resigned on 21 July, 2021.
Regarding the largest award of €20,000 for her victimisation complaint, the commission decided that SEDA had been notified of her complaint to the WRC while she was on sick-leave.
Ms Cardenas alleged she was afterwards repeatedly victimised from February 2020 when she re-commenced work.
The WRC had heard that Ms Cardenas 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.
In outlining Ms Cardenas' complaint in her written decision, Adjudicating Officer Marie Flynn said: "On the same day, while she [Ms Cardenas] was alone at the reception desk, the HR Director, Stephen Murphy and the CEO, Tiago Mascarenhas, approached her when she had finished printing some documents and had put them in her personal bag, as she did not have a locker at her workplace."
"The complainant submits that they both approached her in a very intimidating and threatening manner."
"The CEO stood very close to her, blocking her only exit. The HR Director asked her if she had printed documentation that belonged to the respondent."
"The complainant replied that she was printing documentation for a meeting on 18 February, 2020, which would assist her in responding to the allegations against her and that she would be able to prove that no disruption was caused during her sick leave because her colleagues and other departments had the same access to the IT system and shared data as she had."
Ms Cardenas submitted to the WRC that the HR Director informed her in a "hostile manner" that she was not allowed to print any data from the respondent organisation and remove it from the building.
She also submitted that the HR Director and the CEO threatened her saying that she would be penalised as she was committing a crime under GDPR legislation.
The Respondent submitted that it was entitled to investigate the sending of information, in particular sensitive data for the purpose of the Data Protection Act and GDPR and/or printing of same by the Complainant.
The Complainant was suspended with pay and there was no detriment as alleged.
Ms Cardenas 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.
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.
"At the hearing on 13 June 2022, the respondent submitted a spreadsheet which purported to show the amount of commission due to the complainant and the dates on which it was paid. In my opinion, which I shared with the Respondent at the hearing, this spreadsheet is a complete work of fiction," she wrote.
"Amongst the errors that are apparent from even the most cursory appraisal are the following: the spreadsheet shows entries in relation to the years 1900, 1902 and 1904; there is no consistency between the column headings and the data contained within the columns; and there are handwritten entries on the spreadsheets."
Ms Cardenas was then further awarded an additional €12,849 regarding her separate complaints of unpaid commission, terms of contract change, a later lack of contract and of penalisation, which, in all, totalled an award of €42,849.