Teacher wins case over questions on teachers who are ‘homos’

Catholic school found to have discriminated on grounds of age, religion and sexual orientation

The complainant, in her late 40s, qualified as a primary teacher in 1987 and worked in the US and at UCC before entering primary teaching in 2002.  File photograph: Getty Images

The complainant, in her late 40s, qualified as a primary teacher in 1987 and worked in the US and at UCC before entering primary teaching in 2002. File photograph: Getty Images

 

A national school teacher has been awarded €54,000 by the Equality Tribunal for discrimination over a failed promotion after being asked in the interview what her view was on teachers who were “homos”.

The ruling was made against the board of management of a Catholic primary school in Munster after it promoted a younger and less experienced candidate to the post of principal in 2011.

This followed an interview process which was found to have included an “unlawful” question about her sexual orientation, as well other breaches of procedure, the tribunal said.

The complainant, who is Catholic and heterosexual, said she was “floored” and became flustered during the interview when asked for her view on gay and lesbian teachers.

She said she was also asked about the INTO’s submission to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, and specifically the trade union’s “ideas for religion”.

The complainant, in her late 40s, qualified as a primary teacher in 1987 and worked in the US and at UCC before entering primary teaching in 2002. She had been employed at the school since 2003 as deputy principal and applied in the summer of 2011 to the position of principal.

The tribunal heard that an initial interview process was deemed invalid by the school due to breaches of regulations, and the post was re-advertised. The complainant said she was taken aback when same interview board - comprising two men and a nun, identified only as “Sr B.” - was used in contravention of procedures.

The teacher argued, this alone, “together with the fact that the successful candidate was considerably younger and less experienced than she was raised a prima facie case of discrimination on grounds of age”.

She also raised concern about lack of transparency in criteria used, and submitted that Sr B had asked inappropriate questions.

The complainant said that she responded to the question about patronage by saying the school was already accommodating children of different faiths and none. The nun was said to have followed up with the question: “What about the homos?”

The complainant replied that there were gay and lesbian teachers already teaching in schools. “The complainant states that these questions unsettled and upset her.”

At tribunal hearings, the nun denied asking any such question or making any statement regarding sexual orientation. The school said the complainant’s sexual orientation was unknown to it.

However, in his ruling, equality officer Stephen Bonnlander, said: “I am satisfied that Sr B. asked the question ‘What about the homos?’ as quoted by the complainant.”

Questioning the credibility of the nun’s evidence, he said “Sr B’s insistence on her lack of memory” over discussion of the INTO document “stood in marked contrast to her precise recollection on her interview questions relating to educational philosophy”.

Of the school’s position, he added: “It is precisely because the interview board did not know Ms A.’s sexual orientation, that I interpret Sr B’s question as an attempt to ascertain the complainant’s sexual orientation without asking the question directly.

“Had the complainant been a lesbian woman, this question would have upset her potentially even more than happened to the complainant, and even more seriously limited such a complainant’s potential for success at interview.”

The tribunal heard that following the interview the INTO contacted the school’s patron, Archbishop of Cashel and Emly Dermot Clifford, to raise the issue and it was told these matters had been “rebutted substantively by the board of m anagement”. Nevertheless, an offer was made to re-run the selection procedure for a third time.

The complainant declined as the successful candidate was already working in the school “and her trust in the process had been shaken”.

In a submission to the tribunal, the school said there were minor irregularities in the interview process which affected both candidates equally. It argued the complainant simply did not perform well enough during the interview to be successful.

But the tribunal noted that the chair of the interview board conceded that the complainant was more qualified than the successful candidate. It said evidence was given from another interview board member that he threw his interview notes “in the bin” when renovating his house at a time when the complaint had been lodged with the tribunal. Sr B stated in evidence that she did the same.

“ These irregularities do not favour the respondent, as it is trite law by now that such actions constitute poor practice in hiring and promotion processes.”

The tribunal found she was discriminated against on grounds of age, religion and sexual orientation. The tax free award of €54,000 - the equivalent of one year’s salary - was made in compensation for distress suffered.