B.C. woman wins $78K after employer fires her while on maternity leave | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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B.C. woman wins $78K after employer fires her while on maternity leave

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A B.C. woman has won $78,600 in a Human Rights Tribunal dispute after she was terminated from work while on maternity leave.

According to a July 29 B.C. Human Rights Tribunal decision, Mellissa LaFleche worked as a marketing manager for Prince George Ford when in May 2018 she went on maternity leave.

Shortly before she went on maternity leave the company hired a new marketing manager to cover LaFleche's absence.

While LaFleche was expected to return to work in July 2019 the company didn't offer her old job back, and told LaFleche it didn't know what position she would return to.

The Tribunal said Ford had left LaFleche "in limbo" about what position or duties it would have for her.

LaFleche didn't return to work and filed a Human Rights complaint against Prince George Ford saying it had discriminated against her because she got pregnant.

The car dealership argued it didn't fire LaFleche and she "abandoned" her job by never coming back to work.

The decision said LaFleche had a meeting with her boss at the dealership several months before she was due back at work, and they said her replacement would continue as the marketing manager position and they didn't know what she would do.

Much of the evidence in the hearing centres around what was said in the meeting.

The dealership disputed this saying it told LaFleche in the meeting her job would now be split when she returned to work, and it never told her she was terminated.

However, the Tribunal ruled that the dealership told LaFleche that she would not return to her role as the marketing manager.

READ MORE: Okanagan optometry violated Human Rights Code by firing wife of ex-employee, tribunal rules

The Tribunal pointed out that LaFleche's boss had said there were "three scenarios" her return to work could take but didn't specify what they were.

"I also find that Ms. LaFleche reasonably understood that Ford was significantly altering her job duties, amounting to a dismissal from employment," the Tribunal ruled.

The Tribunal found that following the meeting Ford had told LaFleche that someone would follow up with her about her future work at the dealership a few months before her return from maternity leave.

However, no one ever did.

"Had Ford contacted Ms. LaFleche in March 2019, and assured her that she would retain her managerial role at the same rate of pay, she may well still be working at Ford," the Tribunal ruled. "Instead, no one from Ford ever contacted Ms. LaFleche after the... meeting. This omission on Ford’s part, together with its communications at the... meeting means that Ms. LaFleche reasonably understood that not only was she removed from her marketing manager position, but that Ford wasn’t that interested or committed to returning her to work since it had not identified her duties and position following maternity leave."

The decision said Ford took no steps to return LaFleche to her pre-maternity job status and took no steps to address concerns about her precarious job status.

"All of this signals that Ford did not really want Ms. LaFleche to come back to work because it preferred her replacement," the Tribunal ruled.

Ford argued that LaFleche didn't contact them either.

But the excuse didn't wash with the Tribunal.

"Ford bore the responsibility to follow up to address with Ms. LaFleche the changes it was making during her maternity leave. Ford took no steps to do so," the Tribunal ruled.

"The only conclusion can be that Ms. LaFleche’s maternity leave was a factor in her removal from her role and in the constructive dismissal," the decision read.

LaFleche had argued for $60,000 compensation for injury to her dignity and $135,375 for lost wages and benefits.

Ultimately, the Tribunal ruled Ford to pay $12,000 in compensation for injury to dignity, and $66,625 in lost wages and benefits.

READ MORE: Trans teacher launches human rights complaint against B.C. school district

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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