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Dublin: 11°C Monday 17 May 2021

Actor fired from musical due to dyslexia receives €20,000 in compensation

The Workplace Relations Commission found against the Zak Group production company.

Image: Shutterstock/Christian Bertrand

A DUBLIN-BASED production company has been ordered to pay an actor €20,000 compensation after it was been found to have dismissed her from a musical due to her dyslexia.

According to a ruling by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), Zak Global Promotions Ltd, trading as the Zak Group, discriminated against Aisling O’Mara on the grounds of disability under the Employment Equality Act when dismissing her from a production six days after rehearsals commenced in September 2018.

WRC Adjudication Officer, Marian Duffy, stated that in deciding the amount of compensation, she noted that the entertainment industry is small and O’Mara suffered reputational damage because of the dismissal and it also had an impact on her confidence as an actor.

Duffy stated that it is clear from the correspondence with O’Mara’s agent that her dyslexia was the reason for her dismissal from the musical production.

She said that the compensation to O’Mara is for the distress caused to her and the effects of the discriminatory treatment.

In the ruling, Duffy said that the parties are named in the case O’Mara requested that they not be anonymised. Duffy stated that the Zak Group in this case knew that O’Mara had dyslexia but made no enquiries or discussed with her what measures she needed to accommodate her disability before dismissing her.

O’Mara was dismissed after the first week of rehearsals and the production company’s solicitor explained to O’Mara’s agent in a letter that her dyslexia was hampering her progress. 

The production company’s solicitor submitted to the WRC that the sending of the letter suggesting that dyslexia was the reason for the dismissal was his mistake, as he did not receive instructions to say that.

O’Mara – who has a first class honours BA in acting from Trinity College Dublin – attended her first audition for a role in the musical in August 2018.

O’Mara said that she told the director about her dyslexia and she got the part with rehearsals commencing on 17 September with two other actors.

O’Mara was being paid €500 per week for the role. She told the WRC that in dealing with her dyslexia, she said that writing on yellow paper and having scripts beforehand is helpful as it is difficult for her to “cold read” a piece of text.

O’Mara said she has plenty of experience as an actor and has also written and performed in her own play.

On 21 September the cast performed the first act in front of the company director and the director of the production.

However, two days later on 23 September, O’Mara got a call from her agent to tell her that she had had received an email from the Zac Group to tell her that in his creative opinion she was not suitable and that she was being released from the role.

When asked why she was released, O’Mara’s agent received a response on 27 September from the production company’s solicitor stating that O’Mara dyslexia was hampering her progress.

O’Mara stated that she would accept that if she was let go for creative or artistic reasons, but she believes she was let go because of her disability.

O’Mara, who was worked with RTÉ and also performed in a film, said that while she must work harder to master scripts, her dyslexia has never stopped her acting in drama productions in the past. 

The production company’s solicitor submitted O’Mara was dismissed not because of her dyslexia, but because the Zac Group concluded that she was not the right person for the role.

The solicitor said that in the entertainment industry the practice is that creative differences are good reasons to terminate a contract of employment.

The show director stated that he did not tell the production company that the dyslexia was hampering O’Mara’s progress.

He said that O’Mara’s failure to keep up to speed was hampering her progress in developing her character and the overall portrayal of the character.

The show director accepted that O’Mara asked for more time to read the script because of her dyslexia.

Zac Global Promotions told the WRC that it is a small production company and due to budget restraints, it had only a two-week lead in time for the musical production.

The production company stated that it is not unusual to have a two-week lead end time because it gets too expensive if it takes any longer.

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About the author:

Gordon Deegan

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