WATCH ABOVE: A Georgetown, Ont. woman was allegedly fired from her job because she was pregnant. As Catherine McDonald reports, a human rights tribunal decision proves the employer was wrong and the woman is urging others to know their rights.
TORONTO — Yvette Wratten feels empowered following a Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario decision that ruled in her favour after she was fired for being pregnant.
The 27-year-old Georgetown, Ont. woman worked at Topper’s Pizza in the community for 18 months — first as a delivery driver and then as a kitchen supervisor — but was suddenly terminated on Sept. 14, 2013.
She said her boss at the time, store manager Stephen Brown, called her into his office to discuss her pregnancy.
“He asked me about a rumour that I was pregnant, asked if it was hearsay or if it was actually true, and I told him yes, it was true but I didn’t want to say anything until I’m past my safety net or first trimester because I’m high risk and I’ve lost a few before,” she said.
“He informed me that we’d have to part ways and I told him he couldn’t do it, it was illegal, and he smirked at me, said he could, so I said, ‘See you in court,’ and I walked out the back door.”
Wratten said that just days earlier, she confided in a co-worker whom she thought was a friend, when she was just five weeks pregnant.
She said she had asked the co-worker to keep the news of her pregnancy quiet, but before she knew it others were congratulating her.
“I was pretty upset,” she said, thinking back to how the rumour spread across the office.
Just 10 days after being fired, during a visit to her doctor, Wratten was sent to hospital.
The pregnancy was ectopic, where the fetus develops outside the uterus, and she miscarried.
“It was quite a traumatizing event,” said Wratten.
She said she had searched online for a human rights lawyer and found Jean-Alexandre De Bousquet, who took on the case.
“Her doctor testified that the main reason she was depressed was not because she had a miscarriage, but because she was terminated from this employment that she dearly loved,” De Bousquet said of the three-day hearing.
A decision handed down last week awarded Wratten $20,000 for injuries to her dignity, feelings and self-respect.
Adjudicator Kathleen Martin found “the respondent’s discriminatory conduct was deliberate and occurred at a very vulnerable time.”
At the hearing, Wratten’s former boss testified that her termination had nothing to do with the pregnancy — in fact, he denied even knowing about it.
Instead he said she was fired for poor performance including yelling at co-workers and negative comments to customers. But the adjudicator found his evidence was not credible or reliable.
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A statement from Topper’s Pizza to Global News said this “isolated incident is not an acceptable way of treating our valued employees or guests of our pizzerias.”
“At Topper’s Pizza, we take our equal employment policy very seriously and have taken the necessary steps, including additional training, to ensure that this situation never happens again,” it read.
“As a brand, we always have and will continue to value our equal employment policy and the rights of our current and potential employees.”
Statistics obtained from the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario for 2013-2014 show that 810 complaints were filed on the grounds of sex, pregnancy and gender identity.
That’s wrongly 25 per cent of all complaints failed.
But De Bousquet says this case is somewhat unusual.
“It’s the first time I’ve come across a case where the individual discloses to the employer that she’s pregnant and is almost immediately terminated,” he said.
“Usually they will be terminated while being on maternity leave and the employer will allege it’s a result of the [restructuring of] the company.”
Wratten is now happily working as a dispatcher for a cab company, off anti-depressant medication and grateful for family support through the difficult period of her life.
She’s also encouraging others to know their rights.
“I’m super happy, even if it was nothing, I would have been happy just knowing that it was proven that I was right,” she said.
“What they did was completely wrong and they didn’t get away with it. So the money is just more of a bonus.”
Read the full statement from Topper’s Pizza Co-CEO Keith Toppazzini:
We at Topper’s Pizza are disheartened by the circumstances surrounding this employee’s dismissal. We value each and every employee within our organization and have strict policies and procedures in place to ensure the highest level of employee conduct is performed. At Topper’s Pizza, we also value our Equal Employment Policy and uphold the rights of our current and potential employees at each of our restaurant locations, and take this matter very seriously. As this is the first occurrence of this nature in our organizations’ thirty-three year history, we are taking additional steps to ensure this does not transpire again in future. We are in the process of completing a comprehensive review of Human Resources policies and procedures. More specifically, we are implementing additional Human Resources management training to ensure all employees and franchise partners continue to meet or exceed the highest standard of codes of conduct within our organization as well as with our valued customers. We strive to provide the necessary steps, training documentation and support for our employees and Franchise Partners to ensure that incidents such as this are avoided. We stand by our Franchise Managers in their efforts to handle all employee matters with respect, professionalism, sensitivity and care, while adhering to proper procedure. At Topper’s Pizza we are committed to continual improvements in an effort to offer the best possible support to our team as well as exceptional service to our customers. We look forward to the opportunity to continue to serve our loyal guests for many years to come.