STATE TRAINING BODY Solas has been ordered to pay €20,000 to a worker after the agency was found to have discriminated against the man.
The Solas employee, Dave Barry, took a case to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) after he was asked in an interview if he should be “taking it easier”.
Barry had more than 20 years experience working as an instructor in information technology. In April 2014, he applied for the position of assistant manager in the Limerick Training Centre.
The centre is now run by the Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board but was run by Solas at the time.
Barry, who was 60 at the time of the interview, said that he was asked: “Do you think at this stage that you should be taking it easier?”
He said that, while he answered, the question deflated him. He interpreted it as a reference to his age and that the interview panel thought that he should be not be going for promotion five years before his compulsory retirement age.
The job eventually went to someone who was aged 38 at the time and who was the youngest candidate.
In its submission to the WRC, Solas denied that the question was asked. It claimed that Barry was asked: “What motivates you to take on this role at this stage in your career?”
It claimed he was asked this because Barry “was not portraying his previous experience to his advantage at the interview”.
The WRC found Barry to be a “compelling witness” and “fully accepted his evidence that the question was asked in the way he suggests”.
“Unlike the respondent his memory of what was asked never deviated.”
The equality officer said Barry had lots of experience doing different types of interviews, and so it was hard to believe that he was not performing well at the interview.
She said that, as a result of this conclusion, she found the reason the question was supposedly asked to be “less than credible”.
“Therefore I find that the question – ‘Do you think at this stage you should be taking things easier?’ – in the context of an interview for a promotion is a discriminatory question on the ground of age,” the equality officer said.
“I can also easily understand how it would deflate the complainant for the rest of the interview.”
She also noted that Solas have conducted research that shows being older is one of the barriers towards participating in further education.
“Therefore they should be even more conscious of avoiding age-discriminatory practices with their own employees,” she said.
She added: “I find that the respondent has discriminated against the complainant regarding access to promotion.”
Solas was ordered to pay Barry €20,000 in compensation for breaches of the Employment Equality Acts.
The State body was also told to “conduct a review of its policies and procedures in relation to its employment policies to ensure that they are in compliance with these Acts”.
A spokeswoman for Solas said that the organisation accepts all the findings of the WRC.
“We take it very seriously and we are working our way through the recommendations,” she said.