Workplace Relations Commission: Man with severe speech impediment awarded €15,000 in disability discrimination complaint



Workplace Relations Commission
Workplace Relations Commission

A man who was terminated without notice after working with a machinery manufacturing company for nearly a year has been awarded €15,000 in the Workplace Relations Commission.

Finding that the company was in breach of the Employment Equality ActsAdjudication Officer Ray Flaherty found that the termination “had more to do with his disability than with his work performance”. 

Background 

In August 2016, the Complainant commenced employment as a Design Engineer with the Respondent, an Agricultural Equipment and Machinery manufacturer.

The Complainant submitted that he had over 30 years’ experience in the manufacturing industry and that when he attended for the interview, he made the Respondent aware that he had a severe speech impediment – a stammer.

The Complainant submitted that his work mainly involved design as well as liaising with the floor supervisors and dealing with suppliers – his role involved approximately 95% design work/written communication and 5% verbal communication.

In February 2017, the Complainant attended a six-month performance appraisal, after which he was given a pay increase. During the appraisal, the managing director informed the Complainant that he had heard about a “text to speech” app, which would go on an iPad. The Complainant agreed to try it out; however, he found the app was not practical to use in a work environment as it took longer to turn on the tablet, swipe the screen, type the words and press go than it did to say it with his stammer. The Complainant also submitted that the volume on the device was too low for use on the factory floor.

Termination of employment 

On 14 July 2017, the Complainant received an email and a text message from the managing director who requested that he contact him before he went home.

According to the Complainant, the managing director said at their meeting, “we’re parting company. It’s not working out” and that “your designs are good, it’s the whole communication thing. I need someone who can communicate with the dealers and customers. There are basically two halves to the job. Doing the design and also dealing with the customers. So we’re going to re-advertise the position. I’m letting you go just within the year.”

The Complainant was given two weeks’ pay in lieu of notice.

It transpired that the Complainant’s Supervisor did not know he had been dismissed, and said via text:

“I’m so sorry. I can’t understand why. I always said you were getting on great when asked… which you were… I’m shocked, genuinely… – was some workload to take over after [the previous employee] and I can say you know more about tag hydraulics than me.! I’m at a [loss] to understand their reasons.”

Allegation of discrimination

In December 2017, the Complainant submitted a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission, under the Employment Equality Act 1998, contending that the Respondent discriminated against him by dismissing him for discriminatory reasons based on his disability.

It was further submitted that the Respondent failed in its obligation to reasonably accommodate or take adequate measures to accommodate the Complainant’s disability.

Adjudication Officer Flaherty was satisfied that the Complainant was suffering from a disability in line with Section 2(1) of the Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2015. He was also satisfied that the Complainant had established a prima facie case that an act of discrimination took place in relation to the termination of his contract of employment.

Finding that the termination was in direct breach of several provisions contained in the Respondent’s own Disciplinary Procedure, Adjudication Officer Flaherty said the Respondent’s actions ran contrary to the following provision: “in all dismissal cases, full investigation will be carried out, and you will have the right to put your case and be accompanied by another staff member or appropriate representative, and the right to appeal against a decision to a more senior management.”

Stating that the questionable nature of the termination was evidenced in the text message from the Complainant’s supervisor, Adjudication Officer Flaherty rejected the Respondent’s case that the termination was related to poor performance, and found that it was more likely that the decision “had more to do with his disability than with his work performance”.

In addition, he found that the Respondent failed to properly exercise the responsibility placed on them by Section 16(3) of the Employment Equality Act 1998, to provide reasonable accommodation to enable the Complainant to continue in employment.

Finding the discrimination complaint well-founded, Adjudication Officer Flaherty made an award of €15,000 in the Complainant’s favour for the Respondent’s breach of Section 8(1) of the Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2015.

The Complainant also submitted a complaint under the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994, contending that he had not received a statement in writing of the terms and conditions of employment; however, this complaint was not well-founded.

  • by Róise Connolly for Irish Legal News

© Irish Legal News Ltd 2019



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