In a recently published determination, the Equality Tribunal has recognised the inclusion of transgender people under the gender heading of the Employment Equality legislation*. The Tribunal also awarded €35,400 in damages after it found that the claimant had been discriminated against on the grounds of gender and disability.
The claimant alleged that she had been constructively dismissed when she revealed her real gender identity to her employer and then sought through the process of "real life experience" to live as a member of the other sex. The claimant gave examples of the discrimination to which she was subjected. She said that the company director told her that she could come to the office dressed as a woman but that she should change into male clothing and use her male identity when seeing clients. Some time later she was asked to work from home until a new office was ready for her. She expected this to be a temporary measure. She was then told that a new person had started work in the office and there was no room for her. The director subsequently criticised her productivity. She again requested that she be allowed to return to work in the office. This was refused and she was told that her presence caused "a bad atmosphere in the office". Some time later she secured work elsewhere. However this fell through and she asked to return to her position. She was offered a new contract for a different role with unsociable hours and lower pay. She refused this and she was then asked to hand in a letter of resignation.
In response, the respondent company said that it had attempted to provide support but that the claimant's productivity had dropped dramatically since the announcement of her new gender identity.
The Equality Tribunal found that the company had little, if any understanding, that the gender transition process was the appropriate treatment for the claimant's condition. It further found that the employer had a duty to obtain knowledge of an employee's disclosed disability to ensure that he or she does not discriminate against the employee. The Tribunal went on to say that the facts of the case "clearly reveal how a failure to appreciate the reality of a disability and the exclusion of a person with a disability from the process that aims to integrate her, has resulted in discriminatory treatment on the gender and disability grounds." On the disability point, the Tribunal was of the view that, while the complainant did not because of her disability require special assistance or reasonable accommodation to be afforded per se, she did require a workplace that "recognised her right to dress and be identified as a female".
The Tribunal viewed that the difficulties the claimant encountered at work were clearly as a result of the respondent's actions and treatment of her. On foot of this, it found the respondent's approach to her amounted to a discriminatory dismissal on the grounds of gender and disability. The Tribunal awarded just over €35,400 in compensation which represents approximately eighteen months' pay.
* Louise Hannon v First Direct Logistics Limited Dec – E2011 -066