THE EQUALITY TRIBUNAL
EMPLOYMENT EQUALITY ACTS 1998-2011
(represented by Grogan & Associates)
Willis Risk Services (Ireland) Ltd
(represented by William Fry Solicitors)
Keywords: Employment Equality Acts, Family Status, Civil Status Discriminatory treatment, No prima facie case, Access to promotion
1.1. The case concerns a claim by Ms. Linda Brennan that Willis Risk Services (Ireland) Ltd, discriminated against her on the grounds of civil status (formerly marital status) and family status contrary to Sections 6(2)(b) and (c) of the Employment Equality Acts 1998 -2011 [hereinafter referred to as ‘the Acts’], regarding her conditions of employment and access to promotion.
1.2. The complainant referred a complaint under the Acts to the Director of the Equality Tribunal on the 1st November 2011. On 6th June 2013, in accordance with his powers under Section 75 of the Act, the Director delegated the case to me, Orlaith Mannion, an Equality Officer, for investigation, hearing and decision and for the exercise of other relevant functions of the Director under Part VII of the Acts. On this date my investigation commenced. Submissions were received from both parties and a joint hearing was held on 19th June 2013 as required by Section 79(1) of the Act.
Summary of the complainant’s case
2.1. The complainant began employment with Willis Risk Services (Ireland) Ltd [an insurance broker and pensions, actuarial and risk management consultancy] on the 12th November 2001 as a Communications Administrator. Ms Brennan was promoted to Compliance Assistant in 2005 and Compliance Manager (Non-Life) in 2007. She reported to the Head of Compliance. The complainant worked part-time [22.5 hours].
2.2. On 16th March 2011 Mr A (Head of Human Resources) with the respondent let Ms Brennan know that her supervisor, Mr B (Head of Compliance) was stepping down from this role to focus on the Employee Benefits side of the business. Mr A said that they would be advertising the position and encouraged her to apply.
2.3. As her children were 13 and 15 at this time, Ms Brennan had no qualms about applying for this full-time role. She had twenty years of experience in compliance issues. She consistently obtained high marks in her performance appraisals. She felt the interview had gone well and expected to get the position.
2.4. She was very disappointed to find out that a woman who had less experience in compliance but was not married and did not have children obtained the position.
Summary of the respondent’s case
3.1 The respondent denies all charges of discrimination. They are anxious to point out that Ms Brennan was a good worker and they enjoyed a healthy working relationship with her. The respondent has an Equal Opportunities policy – a copy of which has been included in their submission.
3.2 They submit that they were glad she applied for the position. Four people applied and three people were interviewed. After the interview, it was a two-horse race between the complainant and the successful candidate. The successful candidate had three and a half years’ experience as Head of Compliance in one of the respondent’s larger competitors whereas the complainant had none. The successful candidate also had greater experience acting as the primary relationship manager with the Central Bank and the Financial Service Ombudsman. Unlike the complainant, she also had a primary degree in business and was a Chartered Insurance Practitioner (ACII). The successful candidate also worked previously as a broker so understood the business environment also. The respondent submits that Ms Brennan was a competent No. 2 but did not demonstrate at the interview that she had the required strategic vision to step up to the statutory role of Compliance Officer.
3.3 They submit that civil status or family status had nothing to do with her not obtaining the position. The successful candidate demonstrated better experience at a high level.
Conclusions of the Equality Officer
4.1.Section 6(1) of the Act provides that discrimination shall be taken to occur where on any of the discriminatory grounds mentioned in subsection (2) one person is treated less favourably than another is, has been or would be treated. The discriminatory grounds in this case are civil status and family status. In reaching my decision, I have taken into account all of the submissions, written and oral, made by the parties. Therefore, the issues for me to decide are:
(i) Whether the complainant was denied access to promotion because of her civil and family status
(ii) whether the complainant suffered discriminatory treatment in relation to her conditions of employment on the grounds of civil and family status.
4.2 In evaluating the evidence before me, I must first consider whether the complainant has established a prima facie case pursuant to Section 85A of the Act. The Labour Court has held consistently that the facts from which the occurrence of discrimination may be inferred must be of ‘sufficient significance’ before a prima facie case is established and the burden of proof shifts to the respondent.
Access to Promotion
4.3 According to Section 8(8) of the Act, an employer shall be taken to discriminate against an employee in relation to promotion if, on any of the discriminatory grounds the employers refuses or deliberately omits to offer or afford the employee access to opportunities for promotion in circumstances in which another eligible and qualified person is offered or afforded such access or the employer does not in these circumstances offer or afford the employee access in the same way to those opportunities.
4.4 The Labour Court has consistently held that ‘in cases involving the filling of posts it is not the function of the Court to substitute its views on the relative merit of candidates for those of the designated decision makers. Rather, its role is to ensure that the selection process is not tainted by unlawful discrimination. Consequently the Court will not normally look behind a decision unless there is clear evidence of unfairness in the selection process or manifest irrationality in the result.’
4.5 At my request, the respondent submitted the curriculum vitaes, interview notes and minutes of discussions afterwards of all three candidates interviewed. Every candidate was asked the same questions and the interviewers’ thoughts on the answers were written underneath the questions asked on worksheets. This complies with best practice in recruitment. It is evident that the interview board put significant effort into the interview process. They realised that giving the external candidate the position would cause conflict and therefore did not come to a final decision until after the weekend. I accept the evidence of Mr A and Mr B that they genuinely were unaware of the civil status or family status of the successful candidate. On the evidence adduced, the complainant has not established to my satisfaction that the marks awarded by the interview board as between her and the successful candidate were irrational or unfair. Therefore this aspect of her case fails.
Conditions of Employment
4.6 No evidence was adduced of how the complainant was treated less favourably regarding her conditions of employment because she was married or had children. Therefore, her case under 8 (1) (b) fails.
I have concluded my investigation of Ms. Linda Brennan’s complaint. Based on all of the foregoing, I find, pursuant to Section 79(6) of the Act, that
(i) the complainant has failed to establish the facts from which it may be presumed that the respondent discriminated against her regarding access to promotion on the grounds of civil status or family
(ii) the complainant has failed to establish the facts from which it may be presumed that she was discriminated in relation to her conditions of employment on the grounds of family status or civil status.
Therefore I find against the complainant.
19th December 2013
 EDA031 UCD and Eleanor O’Higgins