Hong Kong woman gets HK$133,000 in damages for being dismissed from job over pregnancy three years ago

Jasmine Siu

A Hong Kong woman who was dismissed from her job over pregnancy three years ago has won HK$133,000 (US$17,000) in damages from her former employer.

The victim, whose name was pronounced as Chun Sau-ching in court documents written in Chinese, previously told the District Court that her boss, Chan Hon-lung, had appeared cold upon learning about her pregnancy.

Three days after Chun informed her office she was pregnant, Chan told her he hoped she would resign to “minimise his burden”, and also threatened to take action that would make her suffer if she continued to stay in the company.

He had warned that she would be sent to remote areas to complete assignments and suggested changing her full-time employment status to part-time, with her pay reduced from HK$11,000 (US$1,400) a month to HK$40 (US$5) per hour. Chan finally terminated her employment in July 2016 on the grounds of “poor performance”.

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The woman lost her baby and was diagnosed with spot baldness during the negotiations with her boss. She complained to the Equal Opportunities Commission and sued the company for HK$170,000 (US$22,000) in compensation.

At trial, however, Chan denied having made any threats and refused to accept that his clerk was pregnant, accusing her doctors of signing bogus sick leave notices to defraud him and mislead the commission.

But District Judge Kent Yee Kai-see found the woman honest and reliable in her testimony that was supported by concrete medical proof, and concluded that Chan had dismissed her because of her pregnancy.

“This is Madam Chun’s first pregnancy at a time when she was close to 40 years old,” Yee said in his judgment handed down on Monday. “Yet because of this pregnancy, she lost what was originally a stable and pleasant job. The court understands how much hurt Madam Chun has suffered emotionally, especially when Mr Chan’s threats were borderline inhumane.”

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The judge said women in any civilised society enjoyed the same rights to employment as men and that should not be taken away because someone was pregnant.

Chan’s company, Cheung Hung Aluminium Decoration Engineering Company, was found to have violated the Sex Discrimination Ordinance and Disability Discrimination Ordinance, and ordered to pay the claimant HK$133,000 plus her legal costs.

Pregnancy-related discriminations in office remain one of the most common complaints under the Sex Discrimination Ordinance, according to the commission.

Some 223 such complaints were filed to the commission between 2016 and 2018, representing 32 per cent of total complaints received under the ordinance.

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