Claims of discrimination up by 21%, says report


DISCRIMINATION CLAIMS received by the Equality Tribunal were up by 21 per cent in 2008, according to its annual report.

Some 80 per cent of the claims to the tribunal in 2008 related to alleged discrimination in employment, and there has been a steady decline in the proportion relating to the provision of goods and services, according to the tribunal’s director, Melanie Pine.

Some of this decline is accounted for by the fact that the tribunal may no longer deal with claims against licensed premises, following a change in the law six years ago. Such claims must now be dealt with under the licensing Acts.

While there was a doubling of those claiming discrimination in employment on the ground of age, up to 82 from 41, race remains the largest single ground on which discrimination is alleged.

This accounted for 359 of the 842 cases in 2008, up from 306 the previous year.

The second most frequent ground on which discrimination in employment was claimed was disability, with 97 complaints, up from 89 in 2007. Gender accounted for 79 claims, almost unchanged from 78 the previous year.

There was a fall of 17 per cent in claims under the equal status legislation, which deals with the provision of goods and services, down to 154 claims from 185 in 2007. Here the largest number came from those alleging discrimination on the ground of disability, with 46 such claims. However, this marked a reduction of 80 per cent on the previous year, when there were 86 claims.

In contrast, the number of claims on the ground of race continued to rise, up to 18 from 10 the previous year, as did complaints on the ground of membership of the travelling community, up to 23 from 17. Complaints on the ground of age, gender and family status were relatively static, and there were 38 complaints on multiple grounds.

The majority of complaints were not upheld. Over one-third of the employment claims, 36 per cent, were upheld.

Redress for discrimination in employment can be up to two years’ salary. In 2008 the highest award was €60,000 and the average award in employment was €11,755. In equal status cases, the maximum award the tribunal can make is just below €6,400, and in 2008 the average actual award was €1,664.

The tribunal also provides a mediation service to deal with claims of discrimination, and 251 cases were referred to mediation in 2008, up from 189 in 2007. Of cases which were mediated by the tribunal, some 70 per cent were agreed or otherwise closed through the mediation process.

The tribunal published yesterday an overview of statistics for the first half of 2009, which showed a drop in the number of cases brought to it in the first six months of the year. There was a 15 per cent drop in employment cases and an 8 per cent drop in equal status cases.

Claims of discrimination in employment on the ground of gender have more than doubled this year, she said.

The number of cases finalised was 858, an increase of 40 per cent on the previous year. The majority of complaints were not upheld.

The Equality Tribunal was established 20 years ago to deal with claims of discrimination under the then newly enacted equality legislation prohibiting discrimination in employment or the provision of goods and services on nine grounds.

Separately, the Equality Authority was also set up, to provide information and support to those experiencing discrimination, and to assist employers and service providers in complying with the legislation.

The two bodies are quite distinct.

Equality report findings

Case study 1:€30,000 for pregnancy-related discrimination

THE COMPLAINANT had been employed in the finance department of a company, Interim Justicia, and was selected for redundancy by the financial director when she was seven months pregnant. She claimed discrimination on the grounds of gender and family status.

She claimed that the finance director had made a number of negative comments regarding her family situation, personal commitments and apparent lack of flexibility and commitment at work. She alleged she had not received the proper notification of redundancy and was not assessed for redundancy in the same way as other employees.

The company claimed that there were issues over her flexibility, commitment and suitability that did not arise with other female employees who also had young children, and that there had been serious concerns over her overall performance and her unacceptable usage of the telephone.

The equality officer noted that the entire period of pregnancy and maternity leave constitutes a special protected period as outlined in European case law.

The equality officer also found that the process of identifying and selecting the complainant for redundancy had not been sufficiently objective or transparent and was satisfied that the employer did not submit any exceptional circumstances unconnected with her pregnancy that may have justified her dismissal.

She was awarded €30,000.

Case study 2: €60,000  for age discrimination

THE COMPLAINANT was employed as a higher executive officer with the Revenue Commissioners and he contended that he was the victim of age discrimination when he was not promoted to the position of acting assistant principal to replace a colleague on maternity leave, and when he was deemed “unsuitable” for permanent promotion to the assistant principal level.

The Revenue Commissioners argued that there were grounds other than age that made the complainant unsuitable for promotion to a more senior level, including reservations on the part of senior managers about his ability to adapt to a new role, and they strongly denied that age had anything to do with the decision not to promote him.

Members of senior management also reported that there had been several issues regarding poor quality performance and lack of output at the unit headed by the complainant.

The equality officer noted that the complainant’s direct supervisor and indeed his annual performance indicators as part of the Performance Management and Development System (PMDS) had consistently indicated that he was performing well and was a suitable candidate for future promotional opportunities.

Awarding him €60,000 in compensation, the equality officer referred to the lack of transparency in the promotions process and ordered that it be conducted in an open and transparent fashion, with adequate records being retained.

Case study 3: €10,000 for race discrimination

THE COMPLAINANT claimed discrimination on the grounds of race and ethnic origin because her employer had kept her passport for much longer than was necessary to have a work permit processed, deducted travel expenses from her wages and refused to file tax documentation for her.

The company responded that retaining the passport was necessary for the work permit application and claimed that the complainant had agreed to the employer retaining it for safe keeping.

The company said that tax and other forms had been properly filed and posted to the complainant at her last know address.

However, as a gesture of goodwill the respondent offered to process all the outstanding documentation and file them as a matter of urgency again.

In his decision, the equality officer noted that there was a

large amount of conflicting evidence provided by both sides in the dispute.

Nonetheless, the holding of a passport meant the complainant did not have access to her only form of identification, which would not have happened to an Irish or EU national, and this constituted discrimination.

He also found that the unexplained delay of over three years in processing tax and social insurance documentation put her at a distinctive disadvantage and constituted discrimination.

She was awarded €10,000.