Paralympic sponsor settles equality case

Published Wednesday, 05 September 2012
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Sponsors of the Irish Paralympic Team have paid three women almost £10,000 each to settle a discrimination case.

Paralympic sponsor settles equality case
The case was settled without admission of liability. (© UTV)

Carol Ann Armstrong, from Ballymena, Co Antrim, was one of three women paid £9,500 each after they were made redundant by fuel company Topaz Energy Ltd in July last year when the business made their part-time sales posts full time.

The women were unable to take on the new hours because of child care responsibilities.

Mrs Armstrong also brought a claim for disability discrimination because of the company's alleged failure to consider a reasonable adjustment to allow her to work part time.

Topaz settled the claims without admitting liability or breach of equality law.

Mrs Armstrong and the two other claimants said: "We all felt that our employer had not given full consideration to arrangements that would allow us to continue to work, such as job sharing.

"We are pleased that this has been settled and hopefully this will help ensure that the same thing does not happen to other people who can only work part time."

Topaz, a fuel and convenience retailer with petrol stations across Ireland, brands itself as the island's largest fuel and convenience retailer.

The company sponsors the Irish Paralympic Team and its brand ambassador is sprinter Jason Smyth, the visually impaired athlete from Eglinton near Londonderry who took gold in the Paralympics 100m on Saturday after breaking his own world record.

According to the Equality Commission, Mrs Armstrong, Deirdre Cassidy from Londonderry and Kellie Quinn from Cookstown, Co Tyrone, were employed as part time sales co-ordinators with Topaz Energy.

They worked part time because of child care responsibilities and Mrs Armstrong has been affected by a stroke.

They were made redundant on 1 July last year following a decision by the company that it wanted their part time positions to become full time.

They were offered the opportunity to apply for full time positions but were unable to take them up because of their circumstances.

They challenged their dismissal on sex discrimination grounds because they believed that in selecting only those employees who worked part time, the company was indirectly discriminating against women with childcare commitments.

While not admitting liability or breach of equality law, the company reaffirmed its commitment to equality of opportunity and undertook to review its policies, practices and procedures with the Equality Commission.

The three women were taken aback when told they were going to be made redundant but were referred to the Equality Commission.

"It was stressful for us and our families but it was worth doing," they added.

Eileen Lavery, head of legal, policy and research at the Commission, said: "When considering changes to employment policies, employers should ensure that there are objective reasons, based on sound evidence, for any decision.

"Where the criteria for selection of staff for redundancy may put part-time workers at particular disadvantage then this could raise concerns of gender discrimination, as such a large proportion of part-time workers are women.

"Particular care is also needed when considering redundancy criteria which may impact on disabled employees."

A spokeswoman for Topaz said this case had shown up some procedural shortcomings at a time when it was restructuring its operations in Northern Ireland.

"We will be reviewing the relevant procedures with the Equality Commission and will be happy to implement any reasonable recommendations the Commission may make," she said.

"Topaz is proud of its record in creating employment, in staff training and in providing a safe and attractive work environment for all it employees."

© UTV News
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