A high school teacher in his 60s who was asked in a job interview if he had the “energy” for the role at “the stage he had reached in his career” has been awarded more than 3,000 euros in compensation for age-related discrimination.
The Workplace Relations Commission has upheld a complaint from Laurence Dunne under the Employment Equality Act against Franciscan College Gormanston in Co Meath.
Mr Dunne claimed that he was discriminated against on the grounds of age when he applied for the role of caomhnóir, or caretaker, at the school for the school year which began in September 2019.
Franciscan College denied any discrimination.
The Workplace Relations Commission heard that Dunne, who was 60 years old at the time his case was due to be heard in March 2021, was rejected in favor of the only other candidate – a colleague who was about 30 years younger than his.
The role would have required four hours more work a week in addition to his existing position as deputy principal at the school and came with a compensation of € 3,300, the interrogation was told.
Mr Dunne said he was asked at the interview how, given “the stage he had reached in his career”, he would fulfill the tasks for the extra role and “a question related to his energy”.
He said he gave a “long and detailed answer that explained how fit he was” and explained that he was in good health – and that he was not interrupted by his interviewers to say that this was not the issue.
He argued that it was therefore reasonable that the references to his “energy” at the interview, and the related discussion, were an issue related to his age.
The successful candidate for the caomhnóir position was “significantly younger” than him, he added.
After receiving the message that he would not get the job, he appealed through the school’s complaint procedure, he said.
Mr Dunne said the principal told him during a complaints meeting that there had been “serious irregularities in the process” and that they had agreed to postpone so that the principal could “take advice”.
But when they met again a few days later, the principal told him he had been advised by the Joint Managerial Body (JMB) – the group representing religious high schools – to “no longer discuss this complaint” and the case was closed, Dunne said.
He said he had no choice but to lodge a formal complaint with the workplace relations commission.
The school’s position was that the question asked to Mr Dunne at the interview was: “Do you have energy [for the additional role]and can you make a difference? ”
Christine West, deputy general secretary of the JMB, who appeared before the school, said Mr Dunne “understood the issue as if he were physically fit” and had “stated that he was at the gym daily at 5am and that he was full of energy”.
The interviewers “left no doubt about the complainant’s physical condition,” she said.
Mr Dunne had “misinterpreted this discussion in the interview [as being] related to his age “, Ms West argued, adding that physical fitness or the ability to take on extra tasks” is not an issue related to age “.
Ms West added that the reference to the “stage” of his career “would have been asked by another member of the management team if they had applied for the post, regardless of their age”.
“There can be little doubt for a candidate who is 60 years old that an issue related to his stage in his career and the energy he has to apply for a job gives the impression that his age is a factor.” Judge Gerry Rooney wrote in a decision published on Wednesday.
It was reasonable to conclude, he wrote, that the question was aimed at “subjectively comparing one candidate against another” and that the comparison was “directly or indirectly related to the age of the candidates”.
Rooney found that this constituted age-based discrimination in violation of the Employment Equality Acts and ordered Franciscan College to pay Dunne 3,300 euros in compensation.
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