The Labour Court heard an appeal taken by the Board of Management of Scoil Mhuire and Iosaf against a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) decision to award an unsuccessful applicant, Ms Brennan, €93,498 in compensation. The WRC found that Ms Brennan had been discriminated against on the ground of gender during the selection process for the position of principal at the school. The school appealed this decision to the Labour Court and they were successful in this appeal.
Complaints to the WRC
At the WRC, the complainant advanced two claims of discrimination:
- That she was not notified of an acting up position for the role of Deputy Principal while she was on maternity leave
- That she was not appointed as Principal by the Board of Management following interviews
The WRC ruled that the first claim was out of time and found for Ms Brennan on the second claim.
The Labour Court
In hearing the appeal, the Labour Court focused on Ms Brennan’s concerns that certain features of the selection and interview process were discriminatory against her on the gender ground. They were as follows:
- The selection panel’s decision to include music and art in the shortlisting criteria
- The relatively short duration of her interview
- The absence of any questions about her experience or qualifications during the interview
- The fact that higher total marks were awarded to the successful candidate for his qualifications and experience
- The amendment of marks by the members of the interview panel
- The panel’s refusal to accept a written school plan from Ms Brennan on the day of interview
The Court found the evidence of the school’s witnesses regarding the above matters to be clear, consistent and persuasive. It found that their evidence cogently and rationally accounted for the concerns raised by Ms Brennan. The Court was fully satisfied that the candidates were ranked on the basis of their performance at interview and the quality of their answers and found no evidence that the Complainant’s gender, or that of other candidates, played any role in the panel’s assessment or decision.
The Court accepted the evidence from the school’s witnesses that the successful candidate outperformed the Complainant on the day and was, on that basis and that basis alone, selected for appointment to the post of Principal.
Ms Brennan’s cross appeal concerning the fact that the school had not contacted her about an “acting up” position while she was on maternity leave was not upheld. Ms Brennan argued that this decision was part of a continuum of discrimination. She also contended that she had reasonable cause for her delay in bringing this complaint as she had to investigate her rights and seek advice from her trade union, and additionally she did not wish to cause upset in the school.
The Court rejected both of those arguments, finding that conducting research elsewhere into one’s rights or not wanting to upset one’s place of employment, neither individually nor cumulatively, meets the Cementation Skanska v Carroll test for reasonable cause. They also rejected the “continuum of discrimination” argument, having determined that Ms Brennan had not suffered discrimination in the context of the selection and interview process.
This judgment highlights the importance of careful record keeping and compliance with procedures in the context of recruitment. These measures serve to safeguard employers against possible claims of discrimination. For example, features of an interview process such as ensuring that each candidate is afforded a similar length of time and asking all interviewees the same question are important in guaranteeing that an interview process is fair and transparent.
It is clear from this judgment that the Labour Court placed significant importance on the interview panel’s adherence to proper procedures in ultimately finding that no discrimination had occurred.
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