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Teacher says nun asked "What about the homos?" during job interview

The teacher was awarded €54,000 for discrimination after she applied for the job as school principal.

Image: Shutterstock/Marko Poplasen

A PRIMARY SCHOOL teacher has been awarded €54,000 after she was discriminated against on the grounds of age, religion and sexual orientation when she applied for a job as school principal.

The female teacher, who was deputy principal at the time, made the complaint against the unidentified school where she has worked since 2003, saying that the person who was offered the job was considerably younger and less experienced.

The woman originally applied to be school principal in the summer of 2011. The initial interview process was ruled invalid and the position was re-advertised.

The teacher attended a second interview as part of the new interview process, but said she was taken aback when the interview board was made up of the same three people as the first interview board, which was a breach of the rules of procedure.

She said that one of the board members, who was a nun, asked inappropriate questions during the interview, including one about the teacher’s personal thoughts on the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism and its approach to religion. In response, the teacher said that she had mentioned the Forum in her application as a current issue in education, and said the school was already accommodating children of different faiths and none.

However she noted that the question made her very insecure, as she had no way of knowing whether her answered would earn her a ‘black mark’, given that she was asked for her personal, rather than professional, opinion on it.

The teacher said she was upset when the nun followed this up with the question, “What about the homos?”.

In the Equality Tribunal ruling on the case, the complainant, who is married, said that the question unsettled and upset her. She responded by saying that there were gay and lesbian teachers already teaching in schools.

The nun denied asking the question or making any statements about sexual orientation.

The teacher also said that her qualifications and experience were disregarded, and that there was a lack of transparency in how the criteria for assessment of the applications were applied.

The woman’s union contacted the school’s patron, Dermot Clifford, who was then the Catholic Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, to raise the issues, and was told that the matters had been “rebutted substantively by the Board of Management”.

The school denied discriminating against the teacher in any way, saying that the “minor irregularities” during the interview process had affected both of the candidates equally, and that the woman did not perform well enough during her interview to be successful.

The investigation by the Equality Tribunal found that the person who got the job had been less qualified than the teacher who made the complaint, and that it had been a prima facie case of discrimination on the grounds of age in terms of access to promotion.

The Tribunal found that there was a ‘significant difference’ in the qualifications and experience of the two candidates, and that the complainant was far more experienced and qualified.

Questioned

When asked, the nun said that she questioned the teacher about the Forum on Pluralism and Patronage because she was concerned about the complainant would do with children whose parents did not want them to take religion classes.

When further asked about her question on ‘What about about homos?’, the nun and the other two interviewers denied that it had taken place. However, the Equality Tribunal investigator questioned the nun’s claims to not remember the question, and said they were satisfied that she did indeed ask the question.

“It is precisely because the interview board did not know Ms A’s sexual orientation that I interpret Sr B’s question as an attempt to ascertain the complainant’s sexual orientation without asking the question directly,” the investigator wrote in the ruling.

The teacher was awarded €54,000, which is one year’s salary, in compensation.

The full ruling can be seen on the Equality Tribunal website here.

First published 8.16am

Read: Staff at NUI Galway to start investigation into structural inequality > 

Read: €24,000 for man forced to reduce hours and then retire at 66 > 

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