Irwin's Bakery ageism case- sales manager wins £75k

After being discriminated against on the grounds of ageism, a 62-year old sales manager has won his claim against Irwin’s Bakery in Northern Ireland.

The Equality Commission in Northern Ireland (ECNI) awarded Mr Gillespie  £75,000 and the claim was settled by the former employer without admission of liability.

Mr Seamus Gillespie had worked for WD Irwin and Sons since 1991. Mr Gillespie alleged that in 2021 he was told that the company was planning on recruiting younger professionals. They were actively looking for those people with blue-chip backgrounds. 

The reason for the switch was because the company felt that the age profile of its workers was an issue. 

Mr Gillespie told the tribunal that he was notified that when a new business unit controller position was filled he would lose some of his accounts. He said that this loss meant a significant proportion of his earnings were lost. 

Mr Gillespie felt that not only had his role been reduced, but he was also vulnerable to future redundancies.

Irwin’s informed the claimant in August 2022 that there was a project involving changes in distribution. Mr Gillespie felt he should have been involved in the relevant discussions because they would affect his work.

In September 2022 Mr Gillespie was told that his position was at risk of redundancy, which placed him in a redundancy pool of one.

When attending redundancy meetings he claimed that management commented that they ‘needed new blood’ because the senior management team was all ‘one ilk and age.’

Mr Gillespie was later made redundant with his appeal against the decision not upheld by the company.

Mr Gillespie told the tribunal that he had worked for Irwin’s Bakery for more than 30 years. He enjoyed his job and was a hard-working, dedicated, and loyal employee. Additionally, he had lots of relevant work experience. It became clear to him that, after discussions with management, his career with Irwin’s Bakery was clearly finished.

The tribunal heard that the claimant felt the decision was based solely on his age and he was left with no choice than to challenge the treatment. While he was glad that the case was settled, he would have preferred it not to have happened in the first place.

Chief commissioner for the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, Ms Geraldine McGahey said that even though Mr Gillespie had devoted 30 years of his life to Irwin's Bakery, he still had a lot to offer the company. 

She went on to say that in Northern Ireland it is unlawful to discriminate against any staff member because of their age. Generally, older employees have the skills, attributes and work experience that is needed for the economy to thrive. They are considered assets to employers and should be treated like every other staff member.

Ms McGahey said that it is imperative for all employers to have in place robust policies and practices so that there are no issues with age discrimination. Staff should also be properly trained to use them.

Irwin’s Bakery denied any liability when the case was settled, and reaffirmed their strong commitment to the policy of equal opportunity in the company. Irwin’s Bakery was established in 1912.=

The company has agreed to work with the ECNI so that they can review all their policies, procedures and practices. They will also confirm that the requirements of the Employment Equality Age Regulations NI 2006.

Commenting after the case, a spokesperson for Irwin’s Bakery commented that the company had always prided itself on having a workplace where commitment to diversity is primary. 



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