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May 26, 2024
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Biotech CEO says he only made wine remark to finance manager because she had company credit card – The Irish Times


The CEO of a biotech firm who has been accused of treating its senior finance manager “like a waitress” says he only asked her about getting more wine at a company dinner because he thought she had a company credit card.

Eric Rhodes, the chief executive of ERS Genomics Ltd, denied asking the complainant about extra wine “because she was a woman” – telling a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) employment equality hearing today he would have made the same comment to a man in the same position.

“Eric was there with the guys [and] turned around to me and said we’ve no red wine,” Ms McGann said in evidence when her case opened last October. “I turned around to him and said: ‘I’m not a waitress’,” she said.

In an Employment Equality Act complaint, Ms McGann says she was being “kicked out the door” when the firm advertised for a vice-president to take charge of its finance function in late 2022.

“They were replacing me,” Ms McGann said.

Examining Mr Rhodes, Rosemary Mallon BL, appearing for the company instructed by Lewis Silken & Co, said Ms McGann had described in her evidence a scene at the October 2022 dinner where the witness was “surrounded by all the boys” and told the complainant: “We need more wine.”

“I’m fuzzy on all the details because it was a long time ago. Tracey was generally the one who held the corporate credit card in euros that would be used here to pay so we wouldn’t face payment fees,” he said.

“My thinking was, ‘We’re okay to spend more money here Tracey – I’m authorising this’,” he said.

He said he was not aware Ms McGann had already passed the company credit card to another member of staff so she could leave early.

“Did you make that comment to [Ms McGann] about extra bottles of wine because she was a woman?” Ms Mallon asked.

“No,” Mr Rhodes said.

“If, as she says, ‘one of the boys’ was holding the corporate credit card, would you have made the same comment to them,” counsel asked.

“I would,” Mr Rhodes said.

Ms McGann’s solicitor, Adrian Twomey, said in legal submissions that his client was “shocked to be treated like a waitress”.

Ms Mallon said the complainant gave a “pantomime villain-esque” description of Mr Rhodes cupping his hand around his mouth during a November 2022 video call and telling her “sotto voce” to “Get another job.”

Mr Rhodes said his emphasis had been on “the option of looking elsewhere” but that with the way Ms McGann was responding to him he could have used the words: “Tracey, you know you can always look for another job.”

The WRC has heard Ms McGann tendered her resignation on 16th January, 2023, with her solicitor writing in to state that she considered herself constructively dismissed because of a lack of a response to a formal grievance 13 days earlier.

The company maintains it was still taking legal advice at this point and that the resignation was “unreasonable”.

Adjudicator Michael McNamee adjourned the hearing of Ms McGann’s Employment Equality Act complaint overnight after making directions to the parties to produce certain documents before Mr Rhodes is cross-examined.



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