Woman awarded €12.4k for husband’s dismissal

A woman has been awarded €12,400 on behalf of her husband after he passed away before his case for age discrimination could be heard.

Patrick McCourt’s complaint against Power City was lodged with the Employment Appeals Tribunal in May 2014, but he died the following August. His wife Marie advanced the complaint.

In his complaint, Mr McCourt claimed he was discriminatorily dismissed on the grounds of age. He said his terms and conditions did not specify a retirement age but in 2011, when he turned 60, he had been forced to sign yearly fixed-term contracts.

On March 3, 2014, he was informed that his contract would not be renewed and his employment came to an end the following day.

Mr McCourt said, in his complaint, that comparable employees were not put on fixed-term contracts and nor were they so dismissed.

At the tribunal hearing, Marie McCourt said her husband had been surprised when he was moved onto the fixed-term contract in 2011 and said he did not have any choice but to accept the change as he needed to work.

She said he was upset and crying on the phone in March 2014 when he was told that he was losing his job. She said he had been deemed fit to work by a company doctor and, because he was a cross-country runner, he had a good level of fitness.

It was submitted on Mr McCourt’s behalf that the company did not then operate a retirement age and the document entitled “terms and conditions of employment” did not specify any such age.

It was also submitted that the letter of dismissal in March 2014 only said that the company had decided not to renew the complainant’s contract for another year and there was no reference to the part-time issue now being raised by the company.

He had not declined to work; nor had he left because part-time hours were not provided to him.

Power City said Mr McCourt was an excellent employee but the retirement age had initially been set according to its occupational pension scheme. It said that while the scheme closed to new members in 2002 and Mr McCourt was not a member, he would have been aware of it.

The operations director said Mr McCourt’s role involved being on his feet for long hours.

He said that while the contract of employment did not provide for a retirement age, the retirement age came from the pension plan. He said the physical demands of the job required a retirement age of 60.

He said that Mr McCourt had been happy enough to sign the contract, and returned it the day after it was given to him.

He said when Mr McCourt looked for part-time hours, he was told it was not possible to schedule day-only hours.

In cross-examination, the director said his contract was not renewed because he was struggling with the job and wanted a part-time role.

Equality officer Kevin Baneham said the claim of discriminatory dismissal was well-founded. He said Mr McCourt’s employment status was altered to being on rolling fixed-term contracts because of his age: “He was not retired on March 4, 2014, but dismissed from his employment.

“I note that the complainant was dismissed in March 2014 and passed away in August 2014. I also have regard to his length of service with the respondent; the fact that he did not have access to the pension scheme and I accept the evidence that he sought work after his dismissal. Taking these factors into account, I make an award of €12,400.”


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