Discrimination By Association

In a recently published decision by the Equality Tribunal (Dec- E 2015 – 121), a resource teacher was found to have been harassed on grounds of religion and also was discriminated against on grounds of association due to her son’s sexual orientation.

The claimant a non practising Catholic who had worked in the Church of Ireland school for seven years claimed that the Principal had made comments which criticised the behaviour of Catholics and that she had referred to Church  of  Ireland members as “our children” and “the right people”.  The claimant also alleged that the Principal had said that she had had wanted a member of the Church of Ireland in the resource teaching role she fulfilled.  

It was further claimed that the Principal criticised comments the claimant’s gay son had made at a valedictory service in his secondary school and that she had made derogatory comments to the claimant including that a normal boy would not spend an afternoon shopping for clothes and what kind of mother would have a son like that and allow him to wear a pink blazer. The claimant also contended that she was not afforded sufficient flexibility with the time table to allow her to provide care for her father every second Friday and that the Principal had told her to drive faster to get to the school each morning when she was traveling between different schools.

The claimant raised her concerns with the Chair of the Board of Management in September 2013 but her grievances were not dealt with adequately and she ultimately resigned.

The Principal denied that she had the comments as alleged and said she had been shocked when the allegations were made against her and that she had only commented on the speech made by the claimant’s son, as she had been upset by the comments herself and because her own daughter was in the class that he referred to.

The Equality Officer accepted that the derogatory comments as alleged had been made by the Principal and that the comments on the sexual orientation of the claimant’s son and her parenting amounted to discrimination by association and that her dignity at work had been undermined.

The Equality Officer also determined that the comments made referring to “us” and “ours” in respect of adults and children of different religions amounted to harassment on grounds of religion.

The Equality Officer further determined that whilst the Chair Person of the Board of Management had been well intentioned in dealing with the complaints raised by the claimant, the serious allegations had not been investigated in a comprehensive or adequate manner and that the timetabling issues for example could easily have been dealt with in a more solution focused manner.

The claimant outlined that she had not brought the case in order to get a monetary award but had sought that the issues were acknowledged by the school and in this regard the Tribunal only awarded €3,000 in a case which ordinarily would have attracted a much higher award.