Mr Adrian O'Connell
Board of Management, Gorey Community School
The dispute concerns a complaint that the Board of Management, Gorey Community School discriminated against the complainant on the grounds of his religion, age and race contrary to the provisions of the Employment Equality Acts, 1998 and 2004 (referred to here as the Act).
2.1 The complainant, who was born a Roman Catholic in the United Kingdom and lived and worked in the UK, Canada and Ireland, is employed by the respondent as a part-time teacher on a contract of indefinite duration. He has competed unsuccessfully on a number of occasions for full time teaching posts. The complainant alleges that there is a culture within the school whereby older teachers are denied advancement, that non-Irish teachers are treated less favorably than Irish teachers by some staff and management and that there is a narrow majoritarian Roman Catholic ethos in the school which operates to the exclusion of non-Catholic students and teachers or those who are perceived to be less overtly Catholic.
2.2 The complainant referred a complaint to the Director of the Equality Tribunal on the 23rd June, 2005. In accordance with her powers under section 75 of the 1998 Act, the Director delegated the case to Raymund Walsh, Equality Officer, for investigation, hearing and decision and for the exercise of other relevant functions of the Director under Part VII of the Act on17th November, 2006. Submissions were received from both parties by 20th December, 2006 and a hearing of the complaint was held on 17th January, 2007. The complainant informed the Equality Officer subsequent to the hearing that a colleague teacher who wished to give evidence in support of his complaint was at the venue on the day of the hearing but was unable to locate the hearing room. Some further correspondence ensued up to 15th March, 2007 in which the possibility of a further hearing was raised by the Equality Officer however the teacher in question indicated that while she would have been available to offer 'the perspective of another member of the school staff', she 'was not offering evidence to the Tribunal' in support of the complainant.
3. SUMMARY OF THE CLAIMANT'S CASE
3.1 The complainant states that he returned to Ireland in 1998 having previously lived and worked in Canada and in the UK and that he took up part-time teaching at various schools including the respondent school. Following the abolition of the Irish language requirement for secondary school teachers the complainant was formally registered in Ireland to teach English and History in 2001. The complainant refers to an atmosphere in the school where racial innuendo is tolerated and cites anti-English comments in the staffroom by other teachers as an example. He states that a religious bias permeates the school in quite a subtle way and is reflected in the number of classes where teachers start their lessons with compulsory prayers, despite the presence of non-Catholic students. The complainant states that at an early stage in his teaching at the school he invited a Church of Ireland minister, an Islamic scholar and various other representatives of spiritual groups to speak to students in his religious education class. He states that he was not assigned any religious education class thereafter. The complainant alleged that his son, who undertook some part-time work at the school, was subjected to unfavorable treatment in the staff room by other teachers and treated as an 'outsider' and believes that this unfavorable treatment arose from the fact that he was the complainant's son and was born in Canada.
4. SUMMARY OF RESPONDENT'S CASE
4.1 The respondent rejects the allegations of discrimination on the grounds of religion, age and race and contends that the complainant has failed to adduce any evidence of discriminatory treatment as alleged. The respondent states that the complainant, despite having been interviewed on a number of occasions for permanent positions, has failed to set out the dates and occasions where any reference to his age was made and adds that the school has never considered any candidate to be overqualified as suggested by the complainant. The respondent states that the complainant never availed of the established appeals mechanisms agreed between the teachers' unions and the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools whereby an independent arbitrator hears any complaint. The respondent states that the school also has an established anti-bullying policy which has been successfully used by staff.
4.2 The respondent states that the complainant's lengthy submission to the Tribunal fails to establish any facts which the Board feels it needs to rebut and contains many generalisations and subjective opinions masquerading as fact. The Principal stated at the hearing that the complainant was not assigned further religious education classes after he indicated that he wished to concentrate on his core subjects and that the assignments had nothing to do with his conduct of his previous religious education class. The respondent states that the school has a multi-ethnic staff and student population and rejects any suggestion that it would discriminate on grounds of nationality.
5. CONCLUSIONS OF THE EQUALITY OFFICER
5.1 In making my decision I have taken into account all of the evidence, both written and oral, made to me by the parties to the case. It is for the complainant in the first instance to adduce evidence from which a presumption of discriminatory treatment can be made. The complainant submitted an eleven page statement to the Tribunal regarding his experience at the respondent school however I found the statement offered nothing by way of prima facie evidence of discriminatory treatment on the grounds cited but was more in the nature of a general commentary on his experiences and that of other teachers to whom he refers. I found the evidence offered by the complainant at the hearing to be similarly vague in nature and lacking in specific detail from which a presumption of discriminatory treatment could be founded on any of the grounds complained of. In his initial referral of his complaint to the Tribunal the complainant refers to four specific areas in which he alleges discrimination has taken place and I refer to those below:
(i) Constant references to age during interview
The complainant alleges that he attended for interview for a permanent position and that a member of the interview board suggested that he was overqualified. There was some discussion at the hearing regarding at which interview the alleged remark was made i.e. in 2005 or an earlier interview and the respondent denies that any ageist comment was made. The respondent said that any opening remark at interview regarding the complainant's qualifications and experience would have been complimentary of the complainant's experience and intended to put the candidate at ease. I concluded on this point that there was insufficient evidence on which to base a presumption of discriminatory treatment on the age ground.
(ii) Disadvantage on grounds of race i.e. suggestion of being an "outsider"
The complainant refers to an atmosphere of 'Anglophobia' in the school and alleges that 'foreigners' in general are not 'treated particularly well'. The complainant makes a number of general references to alleged remarks made in the staff room including an exchange involving his son. The respondent stated that the exchange involving the complainant's son concerned the supervision of a class and had no racist or other connotations. The respondent also gave evidence that teachers of several nationalities are employed at the school and that many nationalities are represented among the student population and that it has never before had a complaint of race or religious discrimination. I am satisfied that the complainant has adduced no prima facie evidence of discriminatory treatment on the race ground.
(iii) Disproportionate allocation of 'difficult' students to the complainant
The school rejected this allegation and I found no evidence in the allocation of students to the complainant to support a complaint of discriminatory treatment on the grounds cited.
(iv) Tolerance of 'bullying attitudes on the part of staff to perceived outsiders'
I found no prima facie evidence of unfavorable treatment of the complainant on the race ground.
6.1 On the basis of the foregoing, I find that the respondent did not discriminate against the complainant in terms of Section 6(2) and contrary to the provisions of Section 8 of the Employment Equality Acts, 1998 and 2004.