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          Ireland: Gender Discrimination in Promotion

          In the recent case before the Workplace Relations Commission, Pamela Brennan v BOM Scoil Mhuire agus Iosaf Junior School, a female teacher, who held the role of Deputy Principal, was awarded compensation in the amount of €93,498 after it was held that she was discriminated against on the grounds of gender in relation to a promotion.   

          Date: 01/11/2019

          Background

          The claimant complained that she was discriminated against on the grounds of gender (and family status) in relation to promotion to the position of Administrative Principal.  The claimant's male colleague, who had significantly less relevant experience was the successful candidate.

          The school asserted that the successful male candidate performed better than the claimant at interview and that gender had not been a consideration. The school also argued that none of the criteria used could be identified as being directly, or indirectly discriminatory.

          Qualifications and experience

          The claimant challenged how the male candidate could have scored higher than her in 9 of 10 criteria for the promotion, as he had less experience and qualifications. She asserted that the interview panel were predisposed towards the male candidate. The claimant sought feedback regarding her interview but none was provided.

          The claimant had an Honours B. Ed Degree and a Higher Diploma while the successful candidate had a BA in English and Philosophy and a Higher Diploma. The claimant had 12 years accredited service as a primary teacher and the successful candidate had 10 years according to his CV, but only 7 years according to the claimant. The claimant had 5 years' experience as a Deputy Principal, while the successful candidate acted a Deputy Principal for approximately 1 month in 2018 and later shared acting Principal duties for approximately 4 months.

          The interview marking sheets were reviewed by the Adjudication Officer, who noted that the claimant was awarded 28 marks in respect of her qualifications, while the successful candidate was awarded 30 marks. The claimant's combined mark for relevant experience was 24. The successful candidate's combined mark for relevant experience was 29. Overall, the claimant scored 249 marks and the successful male candidate scored 273.

          It was also noted that the claimant's marks on the marking sheet had been changed and her score was reduced by 2 points. When questioned about this, the chairman was unable to offer an explanation for this. It was also noted that significantly more detail had been taken in respect of the successful male candidate's answers that the claimant's answers.

          Outcome

          The Adjudication Officer was ultimately satisfied that that the claimant had higher qualifications and more relevant experience than the successful male candidate and found that the process was "tainted with discrimination on gender grounds". 

          In addition to her complaint for gender discrimination in respect of the promotion, the claimant also argued that she had been discriminated against on the grounds of family status where she was not notified of a vacancy which arose in respect of the position of acting principal and therefore acting deputy principal while she was on maternity leave. This complaint was deemed to be out of time and therefore could not be considered by the Adjudication Officer. However, the Adjudication Officer did note that the failure to notify the claimant of the vacancy while she was on maternity leave was inconsistent with best practice within the public sector and that it could be a factor from which an inference of discrimination can be drawn in relation to the promotion.    

          Takeaway points for employers following this decision for recruitment

          • During recruitment interview processes should be fair, objective and transparent, with clear records of the notes taken at interview and the scores awarded to each candidate.
          • The interview notes and marking sheets were reviewed by the Adjudication Officer in this case and were significant in terms of her deciding that claimant had been discriminated against. Employers conducting interviews should be mindful that the interview notes and marking sheets may potentially be reviewed by a third party, such as an Adjudication Officer, at a later date and employers should be in a position to explain the rationale for the marks awarded.  
          • Any changes made to the interview notes or marking sheets should be properly documented and the reason for the change noted, as the absence of a proper explanation may raise an inference of discrimination against the candidate.
          • The compensation awarded in this case equated to approximately 18 months' pay for the claimant which is substantial, as the maximum compensation that can be awarded is 2 years pay. In her decision, the Adjudication Officer noted that "in order for the compensation to be effective, proportionate and dissuasive, the sanction must have a real deterrent effect" and this serves as a reminder to employers of how seriously claims of this nature are dealt with by the WRC.  

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