The Equality Tribunal recently directed an award of €80,000 to a prison officer for the effects of discrimination and victimisation1. The case concerns age and disability discrimination and contains some useful points for employers in relation to dealing with promotion interviews and panels. 

The claim concerned a prison officer who alleged he was discriminated against when his employer failed to place him on a panel for the position of acting chief officer.  The claimant gave evidence that he could not understand why his name was not put onto the panel as he was one of the more senior applicants.  He claimed that he was informed that he was "no spring chicken" himself and that his previous illness had also been a factor.  He had been out on sick leave for a period, suffering from cancer the previous year. 

On foot of this he stated that he was discriminated against on the grounds of age and disability.  The claimant provided evidence that all of the successful applicants to the panel were younger than him.  He stated that the respondent failed to provide any documentation in relation to the selection criteria or feedback to the claimant and failed to provide objective justification for this decision.  He also went on to provide evidence of a number of examples of victimisation following the referral of his complaint to the Tribunal.

The Tribunal pointed to the fact that the ages of the successful applicants reflected a tendency to appoint younger candidates.  In particular, it relied on prior case law to the extent that where "a better qualified candidate is passed over in favour of a less qualified candidate, an inference of discrimination can arise".  In reaching its conclusion the Tribunal also took into account the fact that discrimination is usually covert and often the perpetrator may not be aware of the fact that they have actively discriminated against someone.  Evidence of it can be found with job applications from candidates of a particular age that are treated less seriously than those candidates of a different age.  Discrimination can also be inferred from questions asked at interview which would suggest that age is a relevant consideration. 

On foot of this the Tribunal concluded that the selection process for the panel was not transparent and was satisfied that there was evidence of unfairness in the process and a "manifest irrationality" in the results.  The Tribunal held that the claimant had been discriminated against on age grounds.  The Tribunal also held that his prior ailment was a factor in the selection process and this resulted in discrimination on the grounds of disability. It also found that following the referral of the complaint, there had been a number of instances which amounted to victimisation.  An award of €80,000 was directed, comprising of €33,000 for the discriminatory treatment and €47,000 in respect of victimisation.

The Tribunal also directed that the employer ensure a transparent and fair selection process is adopted in all future competitions and to ensure that the selection panel is trained in the process and sets down in writing the criteria before embarking on the selection process. 

The case is a useful reminder for employers of the importance of transparent selection criteria in relation to promotion opportunities and the need to bear in mind any of the proscribed grounds in relation to any questions asked at interview stage.  The size of the award shows the extent to which the Tribunal will penalise an employer for failing to comply with its obligations under the equality legislation. It also acts as a reminder of the power of the Tribunal to make orders against an employer directing them to engage in particular training for its staff all of which can result in increased cost for the employer.