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8k in damages awarded against Equality Commission for sexual discrimination at work

An industrial tribunal has imposed an £8,137 award for damages against the Equality Commission for sex discrimination.

The tribunal found that the publicly-funded commission has unlawfully discriminated against its employee, Elizabeth Kennedy, albeit unintentionally.

Ms. Kennedy, a solicitor, worked for Equality Commission as legal officer prior to taking a five-year career break, which began in 2009, to take care of her child’s health issues. The commission approved her request but hired a replacement only three months thereafter. The post of Ms. Kennedy was awarded to a male replacement without her knowledge. In September 2013, she informed the commission of her intent to resume her post effective January of 2014 but she received no confirmation. Despite such notice, Ms. Kennedy was not told that her post was already occupied by a permanent replace until December 2013, when the commission finally told her that there no longer was any vacant position that she can fill in.

The tribunal said the acts of the commission were unjust and caused significant injury to the feelings of Ms. Kennedy. However, the decision also stated that there was no intention on the part of the commission to impose such discrimination.

Sexual discrimination, as described in Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, is the employer’s unlawful act of discriminating against a worker on account of sex. It may be committed directly through prejudicial treatment based on sex alone or indirectly through work practices or rules.

The tribunal said that the commission’s policy defined career break as “a break with a departure and a return.” The tribunal went on further to say that the policy “was not written on the basis that the acceptance of a career break was in fact a resignation, with no more than a limited form of preferential reinstatement if a suitable vacancy were ever to arise at some indeterminate point in the future.”        

Finding the Equality Commission liable for indirect sexual discrimination, the tribunal awarded a compensation of £7,500 plus £637 in interest in favour of Ms. Kennedy. Further, the commission was told to re-evaluate its policy on career break, particularly its wordings and operation.


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