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School ordered to pay €3,300 to 60-year-old teacher over 'energy' question during job interview

The teacher lost out in the job competition to an applicant who was 30 years younger.

Image: Eamonn Farrell

A COUNTY MEATH secondary school has been ordered to pay €3,300 compensation over asking a 60-year-old assistant principal at interview about the stage he was in his career and if he had the energy to perform tasks for a new role.

In his findings, Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) Adjudicator Gerry Rooney has ordered Franciscan College Gormanston to pay teacher Laurence Dunne €3,300 for discriminating against him on the grounds of age under the Employment Equality Acts.

Dunne – who attends a gym daily at 5am in order to keep fit – was one of two applicants for the post of Caomhnóir, which involved four additional hours a week work and came with an additional €3,300 annual allowance.

Dunne lost out in the job competition to an applicant who was 30 years younger.

In his findings, Rooney concluded that based on the type of questions asked at the interview he found that Franciscan College Gormanston acted in a manner that amounts to discrimination of Dunne on the grounds of his age.

Rooney said: “There can be little doubt to a candidate who is 60 years of age that being asked a question related to his stage in his career and the energy that he has to apply to a post, will give the impression that his age is a factor that is being considered.”

He added: “In the context of employment and work, it is reasonable to conclude that such a question is motivated in some way to subjectively compare one candidate against another, and in the circumstances of the within case that comparison is directly or indirectly related to the age of the candidates.”

On the ‘energy’ question, Rooney noted that Dunne was marked lower in that category of the selection criteria compared to the younger candidate who was appointed to the post.

In making the award, Rooney noted that the College ceased payments for the role of Caomhnóir after six months, and had Dunne been successfully appointed, he would no longer be in receipt of the allowance.

The job interview was conducted by the school principal and a member of the Board of Management.

In response to the ‘energy’ question, Dunne said that he gave a long and detailed answer explaining how physically fit he was, that he was in good health and state of well-being.

At the WRC hearing, Dunne contended that the concept of energy is inextricably linked with age and by being asked this question at an interview, along with being asked about the stage he had reached in his career, brings in the comparison of age.

Dunne claimed that as a consequence of the school principal not being prepared to seek a resolution of the grievance through the Department of Education and the ASTI agreed grievance procedures, he felt had no other alternative but to lodge a formal complaint with the WRC.

In response to the discrimination claim, the school denied it engaged in any act of discrimination against Dunne.

The school maintained that the competition was for the post of Caomhnóir, which would involve the successful candidate taking on additional responsibilities and hours of work.

The school argued that it was reasonable to ask a question which explored Dunne’s ability to take on these additional duties and hours.

The school acknowledged that it did refer to the “stage that [he] had reached in [his] career” and this was the context for asking that question.

The school further submitted that employees are regularly asked questions about the stage they are at in their career, both currently and where they see themselves in the future.

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The school stated that as Dunne had applied to take on additional duties it contended that it is reasonable for an employer to question an applicant about their ability or fitness to do the extra work.

It stated that as an Assistant Principal, Dunne had already taken on additional responsibilities and hours. On that basis the question asked was not a question that related to age, either directly or indirectly; it concerned Dunne’s ability to take on and manage an increased workload.

The school stated that in response to the ‘energy’ question to fulfil the additional duties, Dunne stated that was in the gym daily at 5am and that he was full of energy.

The school maintained that the interviewers were left with no doubt as to Dunne’s physical fitness and contended that Dunne had wrongly interpreted this discussion at the interview related to his age and maintained that the physical fitness or ability of an employee to take on additional duties is not a question that relates to age.

The school further submitted that a reference to the “stage” of Dunne’s career is not a reference to his age but that it relates to the current stage of his career.

The school contended that the same question would have been asked of any other member of the senior management team had they applied for the position, regardless of their age.

The school further argued that basis of the complaint was that the successful candidate happened to be younger than Dunne, but this does not provide a prima facie case of discrimination.

The college stated that even if these marks awarded concerning the disputed selection criteria involving the energy question were excluded from the overall total marks awarded, the successful candidate would have outscored Dunne by a margin of four marks rather, with 28 marks compared to 24.

About the author:

Gordon Deegan

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