Department of Health ordered to pay official €40,000 for age discrimination

Age Discrimination

22 March 2021

The Department of Health has been ordered to pay a senior official €40,000 in compensation after discriminating against her on age grounds concerning a job application for a promotion.

In the case, higher executive officer at the department, Nicola Matthews, alleged she was discriminated against on age grounds when she was not shortlisted for interview for the post of assistant principal officer.

In his findings, Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) adjudication officer, Brian Dalton upheld Ms Matthews’s discrimination claim contrary to the provisions of the Employment Equality Act arising from unintended indirect discrimination.

Mr Dalton said Ms Matthews’s detailed primary facts show, based on a statistical analysis of the data provided by the department, that older candidates in the age range of 50 to 65 years had a significantly lower chance of being shortlisted for interview.

He said a one-sentence explanation to Ms Matthews as to why she was not successful was not a sufficiently meaningful explanation.

Mr Dalton said the consequence of discrimination in the case is loss of opportunity for Ms Matthews to compete at interview for a promotion.

He said 30 candidates were shortlisted for interview and, in that context, the probability of promotion must be viewed.

He upheld the claim after stating there was a lack of transparency concerning the shortlisting procedure adopted by the shortlisting board.

He found the department has not adequately presented evidence to show that the shortlisting process and procedure applied selection criteria consistently and used an objective and fair evaluation process.

He also found that the failure to provide meaningful feedback and to give reasons for not shortlisting Ms Matthews, having regard to the detail in her application, is evidence of a lack of transparency.

Represented by trade union Fórsa at the WRC, Ms Matthews responded to an internal notice in 2019 advertising for the role of assistant principal officer which is a managerial role in the civil service.

The post currently has a salary range from €69,012 to €85,415.

Those applying for the post were encouraged to ensure that their application form addressed the key competencies listed as important to the role and to provide evidence of how they demonstrated that competency.

Based on how well the candidate provided evidence of that competency, they were shortlisted for interview.

The Department of Health told the WRC that it refuted in all respects that the shortlisting process was inadequate.

It said Ms Matthews was given specific feedback by the board chair who stated she had not provided sufficient evidence to show she met the requirements as detailed under the competency heading of ‘Leadership; Drive and Commitment’.

It claimed there was no credible basis by which Ms Matthews can assert a presumption of discrimination and that at all material times, emphasis was placed on choosing candidates by the appropriateness of their experience and not their age.

Each application was considered on its own merits, it said.

The department also pointed out that the board that drew up the shortlist for interview received training relating to unconscious bias and the Employment Equality Acts with specific reference to direct and indirect discrimination.

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