A woman has been awarded €13,000 in compensation by the Equality Tribunal after being told she needed to dress less formally and “get down and dirty with the men” during the job interview process with an unnamed suicide prevention organisation.
After initial interviews had taken place, the remaining candidates for the job were the woman and a male applicant, Mr B. The candidates were invited to an interactive session with clients of the organisation on April 8 last year. The woman felt it went well.
The following day she was phoned by a male consultant with the organisation, Mr A, who offered to provide her with feedback on her performance. She said it became apparent he had attended the interactive session masquerading as a participant who made a very negative comment at its conclusion.
During the phone call, she claimed Mr A said: “How you dress is important… I prefer woman to dress less formally… I don’t know if you could get down and dirty with the men.”
In a further phone call on April 21, Mr A told her she would need to attend for a further interactive session and repeated his remarks about “getting down and dirty with the men”. She felt Mr A sought, “in a very negative and hostile manner”, to dissuade her from her candidacy.
She said in the second interactive session, Mr A maintained a very hostile attitude towards her and, on the following day, was told by telephone the position had been given to the male candidate. She wrote a letter of complaint to the company chief executive Mr C and received a reply, confirming a review of her complaints had taken place, which concluded her version of events was correct.
In its evidence, the company said Mr A, a founder of the suicide prevention programme, was not its employee but a self-employed project manager of the programme nationwide.
It said while the complainant outscored the male candidate in the first interactive session, group participants felt a better rapport with the male candidate.
It said after the second interactive session, the group said that they had felt a “disconnect” with the complainant and preferred the male candidate for his “laid back approach” and “good interactive style”.
Equality officer Stephen Bonnlander pointed out from the evidence to him that during the phone call in the morning after the facilitation, Mr A, as an unknown stranger to the woman proceeded to tell her: “The men liked you last night, they thought you were warm”, and then, twice: “I prefer women to dress less formally; I wonder can you get down and dirty with the men”.
“The complainant stated this phone conversation left her fearful and confused and the entire call felt sinister to her. She also felt remarks about “getting down and dirty with the men” were extremely inappropriate”.
He said the company chief executive, Mr C also gave evidence to the tribunal saying he spoke to the successful candidate who told him that he, too, was asked “to get down and dirty with the men”.
“A phrase like “get down and dirty with the men” would be heard in a much more harmless way by a man than by a woman, for whom it would have a sinister sexual undertone which a man would not necessarily associate with it,” Mr Bonnlander said. “Overall, I am satisfied from the totality of the evidence before me that under the guise of “mentoring” both candidates, Mr A set out to undermine the complainant’s professional confidence to such an extent that she would not succeed at the second facilitation, and that he very much did so in a gender-based way and also for gender-based reasons, that is, preferring her male competitor.” He said the company was “vicariously liable” for Mr A’s treatment of the complainant.
In awarding €13,000 for the effects of discrimination, he said: “I am doing so because I view the infringement of the complainant’s rights which happened in this case as being extremely serious.”
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