Roslyn Park College
(Represented by Martin E. Marren, Solicitors)
1.1 This dispute concerns a claim by Ms. Rosemary Scott that she was treated in a discriminatory manner by the respondent, contrary to Section 7, in terms of Section 3(1) (a), 3(2) (g) and Section 4 of the Equal Status Acts 2000-2004. The complainant referred a claim to the Director of Equality Investigations under the Equal Status Acts 2000-2004. In accordance with her powers under section 75 of the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2004 and under the Equal Status Acts 2000-2004, the Director then delegated the case to me, Dolores Kavanagh, an Equality Officer, for investigation, hearing and decision and for the exercise of other relevant functions of the Director under Part III of the Equal Status Acts.
2. Summary of the Complainant's Case
2.1 The complainant, who suffers from mild depression, stated in written submissions that she was treated in a discriminatory manner by the respondent on 5 February, 2003 with regard to the assignment of food preparation duties. The complainant states that this was discriminatory on the disability ground contrary to Section 7 of the Equal Status Acts s 2000-2004 in terms of Sections 3(1)(a), 3(2)(g) and Section 4 of the Act. Specifically, the complainant states she was assigned to dessert preparation duties on that date as part of the catering course she was undertaking. She witnessed another student begin preparations for the making of choux pastry which was part of her duties.
The complainant asked the other student to stop what he was doing until the Chef arrived. The complainant approached the Chef on his arrival and states that the manner in which she was treated subsequently, combined with the assignment of her duties to another student was discriminatory, based on her disability.
3. Summary of Respondent's Case
3.1 The respondent college caters exclusively for the training, education and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities. On the date in question the complainant was participating in a culinary skills course. On that date the complainant was not assigned to dessert preparation duties. She had, in fact, completed a week on those duties the previous week.
3.2 Students on the course are assigned specific food preparation duties on a weekly rotation and over the period of the course are trained in all modules. The complainant had not yet been shown how to make choux pastry at that time but would have been trained in same over the duration of the course. It is a requirement of the course that students are trained in all modules, including pastry preparation.
3.3 The complainant had had a number of outbursts in the weeks leading up to the 5 February 2003 and these had been addressed with her in ongoing training discussions with the Head Chef on 2 February, 2003. On 5 February 2003 the complainant reacted in a manner such that the student who was assigned to the dessert preparation duties reported that he was afraid to continue working with her and he took sick leave for a week following the complainant's outburst. Some (named) staff members had attempted to speak with the complainant and calm her down but to no avail. The Head Chef had eventually entered the kitchen and taken charge of the situation. He invited the complainant to speak with him outside the kitchen environment.
3.4 The complainant had subsequently pursued the matter through formal complaints to the Head of the college. Ultimately, based on the complainant's behaviour in ongoing discussions about the incident of 5 February, the college had asked her to absent herself from the course for a specified period of time on medical grounds.
4 Summary of Oral Evidence
The complainant stated that:
The only symptoms of her disability are that she is sometimes a bit down and/or tearful
and that outbursts such as those described by the respondent are not related to her
She may have been mistaken about the nature of her duties on the date in question as she had been assigned to dessert preparation duties the week before. However, she felt that the respondent had left her on those duties for a second week. She cannot recall why this was the case.
The written record of her discussions with the Head Chef on 2 February, 2003 which refer to her previous outbursts is inaccurate. The complainant recalls that she signed a blank document on that date and had no idea what the document would be used for. She had only ever signed one such blank document as she is not given to signing blank documents.
The Head Chef could not have intervened on 5 February, 2003 as he was away on holidays at the time and had been away for a week at that time.
Every effort on her part to resolve the issue as to why another student was given the duty of making choux pastry had bee treated by the respondent as an issue about her behaviour.
The respondent stated that:
The complainant had completed a weekly rotation on dessert making duties in the week prior to the 5 February. She had not been "left" on the duties for a further week, as this is simply not done. All students on the catering course are assigned duties on a weekly basis and the student who was commencing preparation of choux pastry was assigned to dessert preparation duties that week.
The complainant would ultimately have been shown how to make choux pastry as part of her course. The latter could not be completed without her doing so. The course is designed in such a manner that the duties are rotated weekly. On each rotation students are taught on a scheduled basis and ultimately all aspects of the course are covered i.e. the complainant would have been taught how to make choux pastry when carrying out dessert preparation duties on another rotation.
The staff of the college had witnessed a number of outbursts from the complainant over her time at the college. These had increased in frequency in the weeks leading up to 5 February, 2003 and had been discussed with the complainant on 2 February, 2003 by the Head Chef as part of ongoing training progress discussions.
Following the incident arising on 5 February 2003 a number of discussions had taken place between the complainant and various members of staff of the college.The complainant's behaviour in the course of those discussions became a source of concern to the respondent.
A number of concerns had been raised by a student participating in the same course as the complainant, on behalf of a number of students, about her behaviour. He stated that other students did not wish to work alongside the complainant because of her outbursts which they found intimidating.
Ultimately when the complainant had declined to avail of the support services in the college and her outbursts continued the respondent asked the complainant to take a leave of absence or "exit" from the course, on medical grounds, for a specific period of time to allow her time to recover. In doing so the respondent was protecting the complainant's ability to return to the course and certain pay and benefits attaching to her undertaking the course. If the college had alternatively taken disciplinary measures against the complainant for her behaviour, she might have been excluded from the course and would have lost entitlement to certain payments attaching to her participation in the course.
"Exiting" students in this manner was quite usual in the college and courses were designed to be as flexible as possible to allow for same. The complainant had previously taken a leave of absence for medical reasons and had returned to the course and carried on her training.
Despite every effort on the respondent's part to arrange for the return of the complainant to the course, subject to her providing medical clearance for her to do so, she had ultimately withdrawn from the course.
5 Prima Facie Case
5.1 I must first consider whether the existence of a prima facie case has been established by the complainant. Section 38A (1) of the Equal Status Acts 2000 - 2004 states that
"Where in any proceedings facts are established by or on behalf of a person from which it may be presumed that prohibited conduct has occurred in relation to him or her it is for the respondent to prove the contrary".
6 Prima Facie Case - Complainant
6.1 The complainant suffers from mild depression and states that the outbursts as described by the respondent are not symptomatic of her condition. The parties agree that another student was asked to make choux pastry on 5 February, 2003. The respondent states that the student in question was assigned to dessert preparation duties on that date. The complainant, in oral evidence stated that she was actually assigned to dessert preparation duties the week before the incident of alleged discrimination but feels that she was "left" on those duties for an extra week but has no recollection as to why that was the case. The respondent states that it is simply not the case that any student would be assigned the same duties two weeks running. The complainant, according to their records was assigned to soups and salads preparation duties on 5 February, 2003.
6.2 The respondent provided documentary evidence that the complainant had been spoken to about a number of outbursts on her part in the weeks preceding 5 February, 2003. The complainant signed one of the documents in which there is a clear reference to the outbursts. The complainant claims that she signed a blank document but had no idea why she was doing so, or what the document referred to and that this was the only blank document she had ever signed.
6.3 The Complainant states that the Head Chef had been away on holidays for a week on the date in question and was still away on holidays on the date in question and could not therefore have intervened on 5 February. The respondent states that this is not the case and states that the Head Chef signed a training report document on 2 February 2003 i.e. three days before the incident of alleged discrimination which was countersigned by the complainant (copy produced in evidence to the Tribunal).
6.4 Having carefully considered all of the evidence in this matter I am satisfied that the respondent has provided the more compelling and consistent evidence. Consequently I am satisfied that the complainant was not assigned to dessert preparation duties on 5 February, 2003. The complainant therefore had no legitimate expectation on that date that she would be requested to prepare choux pastry, or indeed any dessert item. On this basis I am satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the complainant has failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination on the grounds of her disability in relation to the assignment of dessert preparation duties to another student, the latter having either no disability or with a different disability to that of the complainant.
6.5 With regard to matters arising subsequent to 5 February, 2003, I am also satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that it was the complainant's outbursts which gave rise to any action taken by the respondent. As the complainant was quite clear that the outbursts in question were unrelated to her disability it follows that the respondent's actions were unrelated to her disability.
I find that the complainant has failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination on the grounds of disability in terms of 3(1) (a), 3(2)(g) and contrary to Section 7 of the Equal Status Acts 2000-2004.
27 March, 2007