School Ordered To Pay Over €90,000 For Discriminating Against Deputy Principal On Gender Ground

Author:Ms Louise O'Byrne, John Casey and Niamh Fennelly
Profession:Arthur Cox

In Pamela Brennan v BOM Scoil Mhuire agus Iosaf Junior School, the WRC awarded Ms Brennan €93,498 as compensation for gender discrimination, after she was overlooked for the school principal role in favour of a male colleague.

Ms Brennan claimed that she was discriminated against by the Board of Management on the grounds of gender and family status, in the following respects:

the School failed to notify her of the opportunity to fill a temporary acting deputy principal role while she was on maternity leave; and the School appointed a male colleague to the permanent principal role instead of her. The WRC dismissed her first complaint for being outside the default six month time limit for bringing a claim, where there was no reasonable cause for extension despite Ms Brennan's assertions that she had needed time to consider her options and take advice from her trade union. Her second complaint was only partially allowed, on the gender ground, as she gave no evidence that the male colleague had a different family status.

Reversing the burden of proof

To succeed on the gender ground, Ms Brennan had to raise a prima facie case under Section 85 of the Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2015 by establishing facts from which it could be presumed there had been discrimination. Once raised, the burden of proof would switch to the School to prove that there was no discrimination.

The facts she put forward included that she was of a different gender to the successful candidate, that she had "higher qualifications and more relevant experience" than him and yet that she had received lower marks than him in the marking sheets for those criteria. Further, the description of this "administrative role" inexplicably included "music and art" as being desirable, which favoured the successful candidate over her as he taught those subjects while Ms Brennan taught general subjects.

The School's defence

The School denied that it discriminated against Ms Brennan, arguing that:

The previous filling of the temporary role of deputy principal by the candidate who later obtained the principal role over Ms Brennan only occurred after two female colleagues had already turned down that role which arose "on an emergency basis requiring immediate action". Four candidates applied for the role of principal and Ms Brennan finished second, ahead of two other candidates who were both male. Each interview panel member completed their own marking sheet and kept their own interview...

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