The EOC Welcomes District Court Ruling on Pregnancy Discrimination
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) welcomes today (31 December 2019) the judgment (DCEO 3/2018) by the District Court on 30 December, which ruled in favour of a woman (the “Claimant”) unlawfully discriminated by her employer because of her pregnancy.
The Claimant, who worked as a clerk for a company (the Respondent), alleged that she had been discriminated against by the Respondent on the ground of her pregnancy by pressuring her to resign, and later dismissing her after she resumed work from her sick leave taken because of her miscarriage.
After the EOC had offered legal assistance to the Claimant, in-house lawyers of the EOC acted as the legal representative of the Claimant to conduct the case and to initiate legal proceedings under the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO) (Cap. 480) and the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO) (Cap. 487), including preparing court documents, attending interlocutory hearings, and acting as the instructing solicitor to assist external counsel in trial, etc.
“We are strongly encouraged by the court ruling,” said Mr Ricky CHU Man-kin, Chairperson of the EOC. “The ruling sent an important message to all employers that pregnancy discrimination is unlawful, and that they should not treat their pregnant employees in a discriminatory manner.”
Pregnancy discrimination means treating a woman less favourably because of her pregnancy and/or related maternity leave. The SDO protects women from pregnancy discrimination in areas such as employment and the provision of goods, facilities or services. Under the SDO, it is unlawful for an employer to subject a woman to a disadvantage or dismiss her on the ground of her pregnancy.
“For years, pregnancy discrimination remains the second highest number of complaints lodged under the SDO. To tackle the issue, the EOC not only enforces the law vigorously and conducts strategic litigation, but also calls for enhancement to the anti-discrimination ordinances. Specifically, we have suggested the introduction of a statutory right for women to return to their work position after maternity leave under the Discrimination Law Review, the report of which was submitted to the Government in March 2016.”
“As mentioned in the judgement, in this civilised society of ours, men and women are increasingly equal in status. Women should enjoy the freedom and right to employment, and they should not be deprived of such rights and freedom because of their pregnancy,” said Mr CHU.
The Court also ruled that the Respondent unlawfully victimised the Claimant under Section 9 of the SDO and Section 7(1) of the DDO by refusing to provide severance pay and proof of employment to her for the reason that the Claimant had lodged discrimination complaints with the EOC.
To mark the degree of hurt and indignation felt by the Claimant, the Court awarded a total sum of $133,000 for injury to feelings, loss of income and punitive damages, and ordered the Respondent to issue a proof of employment to the Claimant within 14 days.
Further, given the Respondent’s utterly unreasonable conduct throughout the legal proceedings, which had caused unnecessary stress to the Claimant and her legal representatives, the Court awarded costs of the proceedings to the Claimant.
Equal Opportunities Commission
31 December 2019