Discrimination award overturned in case of Superquinn employee

A €20,000 award to a Superquinn employee who claimed she was passed over for promotion because of her marital status and age …

A €20,000 award to a Superquinn employee who claimed she was passed over for promotion because of her marital status and age has been overturned by the Labour Court.

Ms Barbara Freeman, an employee of the supermarket chain's Sundrive Road outlet in Dublin, was awarded the money by the Equality Tribunal last March. It found she had been discriminated against by the company when it failed to promote her to the position of head cashier in February 2000.

The decision was welcomed at the time by the Equality Authority, which said it was the first case to be won on the marital status and family status grounds under the Employment Equality Act, 1998.

Superquinn appealed to the Labour Court, which said it was not satisfied that Ms Freeman had demonstrated that the reason she had failed to secure promotion was because of her marital status, family status or age.

There was no case of discrimination within the meaning of the Act, it concluded. Superquinn welcomed the court's decision. However, Ms Freeman's union, Mandate, said it was considering an appeal.

Ms Freeman was 31 and married with one child when she was one of two people to apply for the post of head cashier at Sundrive Road. The successful candidate was aged 28 and single.

In her evidence to the tribunal, she said she had worked for Superquinn both full-time and part-time for 16 years prior to applying for the head cashier post at the branch.

She had concerns about the selection process. The position had not been advertised in the Sundrive Road or other branches, as was required by the company's equal opportunities policy. She had a 20-minute interview for the job. The questions, she claimed, were of a general nature and neither of the two men on the interview panel took notes while she was there.

Superquinn, however, said it was satisfied that all proper procedures had been carefully followed. Both candidates had been interviewed on the same day by the same interviewers, and both asked the same questions.

The equality officer who heard the case, Mr Vivian Jackson, found the interview panel's notes were "inadequate" and that Ms Freeman had been discriminated against. He ordered Superquinn to ensure she was "personally notified" of all vacancies for head cashier for two years and afforded the opportunity to attend training courses.

The Labour Court, however, said the existence of a difference on the grounds of marital status, family status or age did not in itself establish a prima facie case of discrimination.

"No facts were presented by the complainant to substantiate the allegation that the company had treated her less favourably due to her age."

Mr Gerry Light, a divisional organiser with Mandate, said the union was taking legal advice on its next course of action. Ms Freeman continues to be employed by Superquinn.