Chanel won an employment-related lawsuit in Ireland earlier this month, stemming from what a former employee claims was employment discrimination based on pregnancy. The lawsuit was filed by Ilena Cappello, a former employee of Parfum Chanel, in 2011 with the Irish Labour Court and Equality Tribunal. In her complaint, which named Chanel Ltd. and Parfum Chanel, a subsidiary of the famed iconic design house, Cappello claims Chanel "discriminated against her on the grounds of gender, family status and marital status in terms of conditions of employment and other discriminatory conduct." According to Cappello, she has been working part-time (on Saturdays and Sundays) for the Chanel boutique in a major Dublin department store since September 2010, "to facilitate her studies at UCD." She stated that "there were never any complaints about her performance."
In January 2011, she learned that she was pregnant and began experiencing "severe nausea and vomiting" and was diagnosed with tonsillitis, forcing her to miss three shifts. When Cappello spoke with her manager in February, she revealed she was pregnant. According to Cappello's complaint, her manager asked: “So what do you want to do? Do you want to work for Chanel?” as well as: “Are you going to keep the baby?” with “keep” emphasized according to the complainant. She also alleges that her manager asked her whether it was a planned or an unplanned pregnancy. Cappello further alleges that the conversation left her "extremely upset and distressed due to its intrusive nature." She contends that "the statements of her manager amounted to pressure on her to resign from her employment, and alleges that the ethos [at Chanel] was for women not to be pregnant." Specifically, Cappello claims she was asked to cover up her condition, making her feel that pregnant workers were not welcome in the shop and that her job was in jeopardy.
Cappello also claims a number of other actions on the company's behalf are discriminatory, including its delay in making available a copy of her contract of employment and the company's grievance procedure; its delay in launching an investigation after she filed an internal complaint in connection with the conversation she had with her manager; and its failure to fully investigate the matter.
The court noted that in addition to missing three shifts, Cappello was out on maternity leave and then on carer’s leave for her newborn daughterfor several months, during which time she was unavailable to assist the company with the investigation. In the ruling, the judge states that he found "no delay" on the company's part in investigating Cappello's complaint, and that while Cappello made a formal complaint to Parfum Chanel, which launched an investigation in May 2011, she didn't participate in the grievance process until earlier this year. The court also stated that the company's correspondences with Cappello during her leave was "marked by a tone of friendliness, support, and understanding of her difficult personal situation."
In ruling in Chanel's favor, the court held that Chanel had not discriminated against Cappello, nor had it harassed or victimized her. While the conversation between Cappello and her manager "may or may not have been indiscreet or improper, it did not adversely impact her employment and was not unlawful," the court stated. Additionally, the court held that "from the study of the correspondence between the [Cappello and her superiors], Chanel took all steps it could reasonably take without Cappello's cooperation, to follow up on the grievance against her." Moreover, the court held that Chanel's grievance procedure is in conformance with Irish law.