A leading Northern Ireland estate agency was an exclusively Protestant firm which operated an old-boy network, a Fair Employment Tribunal heard today.
Jonathan Montague, 28, who has taken a religious discrimination case against his former employers Templeton Robinson, claimed attitudes changed towards him once management discovered he was Catholic.
Conor Hamill, a barrister acting for the company, applied for the case to be heard in private, but his request was turned down by tribunal president John Maguire.
The applicant’s barrister Gerry Grainger, opening the case, said his client believed he was the only Catholic in the company, which has two branches on the Lisburn Road in Belfast and Holywood, Co Down.
“He also felt there was an old-boy network. A lot of staff were related and there were references to a number of schools: Methody, Campbell and Inst,” he added.
Mr Montague, who was employed as an accounts administrator in October 2000, said he was well-treated at first and received a pay rise and Christmas and end-of-year bonuses.
But during his time working there he realised his employers thought he was Protestant.
The lawyer said Mr Montague began to feel uncomfortable about remarks made about Catholics by senior management.
“He didn’t complain as he didn’t want to draw attention to himself.”
Mr Montague from Ardenlee Drive, Belfast, has alleged that one of the senior partners, Mr Dennis Templeton, referred to the Irish News newspaper as a “republican rag”.
He claimed the remark was made after he disclosed he was in discussions with a sales representative from the newspaper about placing an advertisement.
The tribunal was told that Mr Templeton would be strenuously denying that he made the remark.
The applicant also claimed the atmosphere changed when another partner, Keith Mitchell, overheard him on the telephone discussing a Gaelic football match with a friend.
Mr Grainger said: “From that stage onwards he felt that Mr Mitchell was a different man. He was more dismissive and scrutinised everything the applicant did.
“Thereafter he felt his work and movements were being monitored, that he was being subjected to unwarranted criticism.”
In 2002, he decided it was no longer feasible to work for the company and resigned.
Mr Grainger said: “He felt gutted at the time by this series of events and the period after leaving was particularly difficult.”
The hearing continues tomorrow.