Workplace Relations Commission: Job applicant loses discrimination cases brought against law firms



Workplace Relations Commission
Workplace Relations Commission

A woman who applied for trainee solicitor posts in Dublin has lost her complaints against firms which she said had discriminated against her on grounds of gender, age and civil status.

The woman brought claims against multiple Irish law firms, complaining, inter alia, that males are preferred over females throughout the country.

Dismissing two of the complaints, Adjudication Officer Niamh O’Carroll Kelly said that the sweeping assumptions which were unsupported by evidence could never form the foundation for a discrimination claim.

Background

The complainant, a 33-year-old woman, holds a 2:1 Law degree and an LLM from University College Cork. She completed her FE1 exams in 2015, and completed a diploma in law from a private university in London in 2017. The Commission heard that she has experience working in legal offices and worked as a paralegal for one of the larger firms of solicitors in Dublin in 2018.

In October 2018, the complainant responded to an advertisement for a trainee solicitor position the respondent solicitor’s firm in Dublin. She stated that there were 25 applicants and that she was one of 17 people who were invited to undergo a “critical reasoning test”. The complainant said that she was never given the test by the respondent firm, who submitted that this was the reason she did not progress to the next stage of the process.

In two separate complaints to the Workplace Relations Commission (ADJ-00019979 and ADJ-00019570), the complainant submitted that she was discriminated against under the Employment Equality Acts 1998–2015. The complainant submitted that she was discriminated on grounds of gender, age and civil status by every firm in Ireland that she applied for a job in.

Adjudication Officer O’Carroll Kelly said that since the complainant had brought the same claim against multiple law firms in the jurisdiction, it would be inappropriate to name the parties in the decision.

The complainant’s case

The complainant submitted that she was discriminated on grounds of gender, age and civil status by every firm in Ireland that she applied for a job in.

Given her qualifications, the complainant said that if she was a male, she would have been given the job. She described the profession as male-dominated, and said that males throughout the country are preferred over females.

The application form also requested her age and civil status. Stating that she was single and 33 years old, the complainant submitted that she was treated less favourably than a married woman with children, and was of the belief that “a married woman with children would get more respect and that the respondent would have an obligation to give such a candidate the job so that she could feed her children”. Furthermore, the complainant believed that firms favoured younger applicants.

The complainant did not request specific information as to the successful candidates, and admitted that she came to her conclusions based on a general assumption of how the legal profession operates in Ireland. The complainant said that she did not know she could request information from the respondent but was hopeful that she would get this information during the hearing.

The respondent’s case

The respondent submitted that the complainant failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination on any of the three grounds – that she made sweeping allegations based on her beliefs with no supporting facts; that she did not know the civil status, gender, or age of the successful candidates; and that she filed the claim based on nothing more than a general assumption of how solicitors’ firms treat applicants such as herself in Ireland.

Workplace Relations Commission

Adjudication Officer O’Carroll Kelly said the probative burden of proof resting on the complainant is set out in Melbury Developments Limited v Arturs Valpeters IEDA09171:

“…Complainant must first establish facts from which discrimination may be inferred. What those facts are will vary from case to case and there is no closed category of facts which can be relied upon. All that is required is that they be of sufficient significance to raise a presumption of discrimination. However, they must be established as facts on credible evidence. Mere speculation or assertions, unsupported by evidence, cannot be elevated to a factual basis upon which an inference of discrimination can be drawn. Section 85 (4) places the burden of establishing the primary facts fairly and squarely on the Complainant and the language of this provision admits of no exceptions to that evidential rule”

The Adjudication Officer said the entire claim was based on the complainant’s own assumptions, with no evidence whatsoever to support her allegations.

Stating that assumptions, unsupported by evidence, can never form the foundations for a discrimination claim, Adjudication Officer O’Carroll Kelly was satisfied that the complainant failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination on any of the grounds of her claim.

  • by Róise Connolly for Irish Legal News

© Irish Legal News Ltd 2019



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