A former applicant for chairperson of a Northern Irish utility service has agreed to receive £150,000 in compensation for his discrimination claim against the Department of Regional Development.

Dr Alan Lennon, a Protestant, applied for the position of chairperson at Northern Irish Water in 2011. He was, however, rejected for the position but came to believe that he had been discriminated against on the grounds of his religion. He subsequently issued a claim for religious discrimination in the Employment Tribunal and, in June 2012, had his claim upheld by the Employment Tribunal.

The Employment Tribunal held that Conor Murphy, a Sinn Fein Minister, breached a code of practice when he appointed Sean Hogan to the position of chairperson of Northern Ireland Water. Mr Hogan was the only Catholic candidate for the position. The other five applicants (including Dr Lennon) were Protestants and were all rejected.

The Employment Tribunal found that Mr Hogan was selected because “he was not from a Protestant background and because he was known to the minister and his (then Sinn Fein) ministerial colleagues)”. The Employment Tribunal then went on to state that it had considerable doubts as to whether the Minister had adhered to the selection on merit principles and whether Mr Hogan was the best candidate for the job. The Tribunal also doubted Mr Murphy’s claim that he was unaware of the religion of the candidates.

After the Tribunal’s finding of liability in the matter for religious discrimination (but not political discrimination) a further “remedy hearing” was scheduled for a later date to determine what compensation should be. However, it has since emerged that Dr Lennon has reached an out-of-court settlement with the Department of Regional Development prior to the holding of the remedy hearing. This settlement is apparently worth £150,000 and – Dr Lennon states – reflects the seriousness of the allegations made and the effect of the religious discrimination upon him.

The Department of Regional Development – facing criticism for agreeing the settlement amount prior to the remedy hearing – also stated that no appeal would be made in the case after they had taken legal advice, stating that the primary reason for this was the cost to the public purse of an appeal.

Dr Lennon, who received Employment Tribunal representation from the Equality Commission during the case, stated after the case had settled that he was “pleased that the case had finally been resolved” and that he took the case on primarily to “challenge… serious flaws in the public appointments system”. He further stated that the level of compensation agreed reflected the seriousness of what had occurred.

Dr Lennon’s case is a relatively public one. However, discrimination unfortunately regularly occurs in a variety of forms in the workplace – with age discrimination, sex discrimination, race discrimination and disability discrimination being particularly prevalent. If you think that you’ve been unlawfully discriminated against in the workplace then get in touch with an expert employment lawyer today to discuss your matter.

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The Direct 2 Lawyers Employment Team post daily on interesting employment law cases, Employment Tribunal judgments and Employment Appeal Tribunal judgments. All of the Employment Team posts are written by qualified specialist employment lawyers

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