In its ruling published on 3 November 2014, the Irish Labour Court determined that a conversation between a Chanel sales assistant and a manager was not unlawful.
Ilena Cappello, a former sales assistant at a Parfums Chanel in a department store in Dublin, Ireland, lodged a complaint in the Irish Equality Tribunal against Parfum Chanel, Ltd and Chanel Ltd claiming that she had been discriminated against on the grounds of gender, family status and marital status and she also alleged that she had been harassed and victimized. Ms Cappello alluded to a conversation between her and a manager where she had revealed to her manager that she was pregnant and she claimed that the ensuing conversation—during which the manager asked her if she planned to “keep” the baby as well as whether the pregnancy was planned or unplanned—was discriminatory and led to her being extremely upset and distressed due to its intrusive nature. Details of the conversation that is alleged to have taken place can be found here.
The Equality Tribunal ruled that Parfum Chanel, Ltd and Chanel Ltd did not discriminate, harass nor victimize Ms Cappello, due to their taking immediate steps to investigate and address her grievance. Ms Cappello appealed the decision to the Irish Labour Court.
The Labour Court upheld the Equality Tribunal’s decision. It accepted that the conversation as outlined by Ms Cappello had taken place but stated that its interpretation was open to dispute and concluded that Chanel had not discriminated against Ms Cappello, nor had it harassed nor victimized her.
Although the Labour Court ultimately vindicated Chanel, the mere lodging of a complaint like Ms Cappello’s can be detrimental to a brand. Employers should consider training managers to handle employment-related conversations delicately and with compassion, which may help avoid misunderstandings by employees. In addition, it is essential that employers take allegations of discrimination and harassment seriously and act quickly in response, as this was critical to Chanel’s success.