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Age discrimination award of €22,000 in Redundancy case

An electrician has been awarded €22,000 by the Equality Tribunal after it found that he was discriminatorily dismissed on the ground of age by his employer, Mercury Engineering.

The claimant, who was 47 when he was made redundant in July 2008, after more than two decades working for the respondent, received €22,000 which was equivalent of six months’ salary.

The points made by the claimant:

  • Colleagues retained at that time were younger than him and had less service.
  • He had a far better disciplinary record than many of those retained.
  • The last day of work he had missed due to sickness of any kind was in 1982.
  • He further submitted that the way in which he was dismissed was inhumane.
  • He was given just 40 minutes to finish up work, despite his length of service.

The respondent pointed out:

  • The claimant was a conscientious and hard working employee.
  • The site where he worked was nearing completion in July 2008 and due to the downturn, the company was not in a position to transfer him to another site.
  • He had declined the offer to appeal the decision to select him for redundancy
  • 1,000 people had been let go from the company since 2008,
  • 117 electricians, 108 of whom were younger than the claimant.
  • Of the 270 tradesmen retained by the company at the time of the hearing, 46 were older than the claimant.
  • In relation to notice of dismissal, it was their policy to compel employees to finish up the day they are told of their dismissal in order to prevent sabotage.
  • The claimant’s line manager was emphatic that the bad news was given “in a gentle way”.

The case was decided on the following key elements:

  • The Tribunal focused initially on what it considered to be a “serious breach of fair procedures”. It noted a discrepancy between the letter sent to the claimant by registered post in reply to a query as to why he was being made redundant, and the one kept on file.
  • The letter the claimant received consisted of just three sentences, pointing out his right of appeal, whereas the letter kept on file consisted of ten paragraphs, explaining the procedure for making people redundant.
  • The Tribunal accepted that the current management was not aware of this “dishonesty”, but went on to “utterly condemn” the breach.
  • Turning to the substantive issue, the Tribunal noted the respondent’s acknowledgement that the claimant would have scored highly on flexibility, disciplinary record and service. According to the respondent, the claimant did not have the specific skills needed to finish the job on the site where he last worked.
  • The claimant “vehemently” denied this, pointing out that he could not have worked as an electrician for 25 years without being able to complete such tasks.
  • The Tribunal noted that the claimant’s line manager did not deny this assertion, but merely said that they did not like to switch electricians in mid-task.
  • The Tribunal noted the lack of documentation explaining its decision-making process.

While a lack of documentation does not serve to prove the existence of discrimination, it makes it much more difficult for the respondent to explain its decisions.

‘UNCONSCIOUS DISCRIMINATION’

The Tribunal stressed the need to be alert to the possibility of unconscious or inadvertent discrimination. “Ageism in relation to employment, is generally the product of an attitude of mind which stereotypes those above a certain age as less adaptable to change, or more difficult to train in new skills, or less willing to take on new work practices.”

The Tribunal found that the claimant had established a prima facie case of discriminatory dismissal on the grounds of age and the respondent has failed to rebut it.

In assessing damages, the Tribunal took account of the possibility that the respondent would have been obliged to make the claimant redundant at a later stage due to the construction downturn. (Gabriel O’Farrell v Mercury Engineering – DEC-E2012-096)