The University of Limerick has been ordered to pay compensation of €50,000 to a former student counsellor who was forced to retire.
The Workplace Relations Commission ruled that UL had breached the Employment Equality Act by discriminating against Michael O’Mahony on grounds of his age.
In a similar ruling, the WRC instructed the Irish Wheelchair Association to pay a former employee almost €32,000 after being forced to retire when he reached his 66th birthday.
In the UL case, Mr O’Mahony was compulsorily retired on March 9, 2021.
The WRC heard that the student counsellor had over 53 years of experience working with young people and continues to work in his own private practice.
He was told by HR staff in September 2019 that he would have to retire as he was over the applicable retirement age.
The WRC heard that Mr O’Mahony was allowed to continue working after his solicitor spoke to the college claiming he was not required to retire at 65.
Mr O’Mahony said that it was subsequently suggested by UL that he could continue on as a counsellor but working for the Unijobs agency, which he considered “unacceptable” as he would be earning a lower hourly rate of pay.
He said he thought the matter of his retirement was resolved and he could continue working until 70.
However, he received a letter on January 12, 2021, saying it was essential to bring his employment to an end in line with instructions from the Department of Education.
The WRC heard UL hired three additional counsellors while the complainant was on sick leave.
Mr O’Mahony expressed his desire to work until he was 70 as he said he was fit and capable of doing so and said his dismissal was “a sad way to end what was otherwise a very happy and rewarding career”.
UL’s deputy HR director, Anne Twomey, said the university was carrying out its statutory obligations in requiring the complainant to retire.
She said the compulsory retirement age of 65 years applied to Mr O’Mahony as he was regarded as a public servant employed prior to April 1, 2004.
Although the Government had raised the compulsory retirement age to 70 in December 2018 for such staff, it did not apply to people who should have retired before the new legislation was introduced.
In her ruling WRC adjudicator, Bríd Deering, said the imposition of mandatory retirement age is discriminatory in itself and to be lawful must have a legitimate aim or purpose which was appropriate and did not go further than necessary.
She fixed the award of €50,000 that UL must pay Mr O’Mahony on the basis that it was a sanction that would be “effective, dissuasive and proportionate".
Separately, the WRC awarded an employee of the Irish Wheelchair Association, Patrick McInerney, a sum of €31,830 — the equivalent of one year’s salary — as it found the charity had breached the Employment Equality Act on grounds of age in its treatment of his forced retirement.
The IWA has denied the claim that it had discriminated against Mr McInerney and maintained that he had retired from his position with the organisation.
However, the WRC noted that Mr McInerney was not offered either redundancy or a transfer unlike two other colleagues when it ceased the service which they operated.