“A primary school has been ordered to compensate a teacher after the Equality Tribunal found she had been harassed on religious grounds and discriminated against because her son was gay.
Resource teacher Bernie Marron took the case against the board of management of St Paul’s, a Church of Ireland primary school in Collooney, Co Sligo, which is under the patronage of the Bishop of Tuam.
Ms Marron (53), who worked at the school for seven years, said the principal made a series of critical comments about her son’s sexual orientation, saying a “normal boy” would not spend an afternoon shopping for clothes. She said the principal also raised her son’s speech and attire at a valedictory service at a local secondary school. She told the tribunal he said her son’s pink blazer was not appropriate and questioned what kind of mother Ms Marron was to have a son like that. Negative effects Ms Marron said the principal – who denied the allegations – also made a series of comments which were critical or discriminatory towards Catholics. She said the principal criticised the behaviour of Catholics in church, commented on the negative effects of Catholics joining a local Church of Ireland secondary school and referred to Church of Ireland members as “our children” and the “right people”. Ms Marron, a non-practising Catholic, said she felt repeatedly undermined by the principal and complained to the school in September 2013. The issues, however, were not dealt with properly by the school.
The chair of the board of management, however, told the tribunal it responded to the allegations “as best they could”.
The principal of St Paul’s denied Ms Marron’s allegations and expressed shock that they had been made. Regarding Ms Marron’s son’s speech, the principal said she herself had been upset by the boy’s comments about his classmates, which included her own daughter.
The principal denied making any statement about the complainant’s son shopping for clothes. The principal said she was shocked to learn of the allegations and said she had never discriminated against the complainant and had sought to include her at all events involving the school.
In its finding, the Equality Tribunal found as fact that the principal made the derogatory comments attributed to her by Ms Marron. The tribunal found the principal’s use of the words “us” and “our” in relation to children and adults of different religions amounted to harassment.
Comments on the sexual orientation of Ms Marron’s son and her parenting undermined her dignity at work and amounted to discrimination by association. Ms Marron told the tribunal she was looking for an acknowledgment that what had happened to her was wrong and sought no financial compensation.
The tribunal, however, ordered the school to award her €3,000 on the basis that the case would attract a significant award of damages in the ordinary course of events.
Equality training It also ordered that the school undertake equality training to cover discrimination and harassment. Ms Marron told The Irish Times she took the case in order to challenge a culture that allowed personal opinion and beliefs to override other people’s human rights. “I was hurt and angry by the experience. No one should be subjected to judgment about their parenting or their son’s right to be themselves,” she said. She also said the case raised the wider issue of the lack of an effective complaints handling mechanism.”
Mr Robert Walsh, McGovern Walsh & Co., Pearse Plaza, Pearse Road, Sligo acted for Ms Marron in this action.
The Irish Times