Equality officer claims weight discrimination by insurance firm

LIFE assurer Eagle Star wants the High Court to stop the Equality Tribunal case of an equality officer who claims her income protection policy was 100% loaded because she was overweight.

Bernadette Treanor, a senior civil servant working as an equality officer, has claimed the insurer had insinuated to others in 2002 that her policy had been loaded because she was overweight and for “other incorrect reasons”. As Ms Treanor is an equality officer, the Equality Tribunal assigned an external equality officer to investigate and decide the case.

In 2002, Ms Treanor, aged 49, of Dowdallshill, Newry Road, Dundalk, Co Louth, alleged discrimination on grounds of “disability” and claimed the loading decision was based on “medical information” which was “no longer relevant”.

In early 2003, she made a second complaint, alleging victimisation, arising from the insurance company’s action in sending a letter to her GP relating to her policy being loaded.

She also brought a separate complaint against Eagle Star’s chief medical officer.

Eagle Star rejected the complaints and has said the loading of her cover was applied on the basis of information contained in a medical examination completed by its chief medical officer.

In a preliminary application which opened yesterday before Mr Justice John Hedigan, Eagle Star argued that the Equality Authority has no jurisdiction to investigate the complaints.

Paul Sreenan SC, for the company, said there was no proper complaint of “disability” and Ms Treanor’s condition could not amount in law to a disability. He said the delay in prosecuting the complaint should deprive the tribunal of jurisdiction to determine it. He said Eagle Star asked the director of the tribunal in October 2006 to dismiss the reference in light of that delay but that had not occurred.

In opposing the application, the Equality Tribunal said the definition of “disability” and whether Ms Treanor comes within that definition are matters within the tribunal’s jurisdiction. It argued the High Court has no jurisdiction to intervene at this stage in the proceedings before the tribunal. The hearing continues today.

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