Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 30 October 2014

Salesman wins discrimination case

Gavin Connolly was found to have been unlawfully discriminated against on grounds of religious belief (Arthur Allison/PA Wire)

A former salesman was awarded more than £15,000 compensation after his employers - members of the Brethren church - were found to have discriminated against him because of his religion.

Gavin Connolly, 30, worked for Newtownabbey-based Oakdene Services printing firm but ultimately resigned after the owners gave employees who were fellow members of the Protestant church better treatment when providing company cars, pay rises and mobile phones, an employment tribunal found.

His selection for redundancy last summer was an act of religious discrimination and the decision and handling of his subsequent grievance amounted to constructive and unfair dismissal, the adjudicating body said.

His religion was not identified but the head of legal services at the Equality Commission Anne McKernan said: "This case does not involve the usual Northern Ireland issue of religious discrimination between people of Protestant and Catholic background. It was held that the discrimination in this instance was between members of the Brethren community and employees who were not members of the Brethren community."

The Brethren movement grew out of the 16th century Protestant reformation and includes evangelical Christians. The Fair Employment Tribunal awarded £15,618 compensation after Mr Connolly complained about his employers Dermot McMullan and Pauline McMullan, trading as Oakdene Services, who were members of the church.

The panel added: "It is clear to us that there was very much a culture of sheep and goats. We were left with the clear impression from the respondent's witnesses that they saw it as desirable and preferable to be Brethren and, by implication, undesirable not to be Brethren."

It found that Oakdene Services had unlawfully discriminated against Mr Connolly on grounds of religious belief and constructively and unfairly dismissed him.

The worker, assisted by the Equality Commission, claimed Brethren employees were treated more favourably throughout his two-year employment and was shocked to be told in June last year that he had been selected for possible redundancy. Following an unsuccessful grievance procedure and sick leave he resigned two months later.

Apart from his selection for redundancy and the provision of tangible benefits such as phones, the tribunal held that he was subjected to discrimination through Brethren employees going on separate lunch breaks, having out-of-hours meetings on company premises and receiving motivational emails not sent to other staff.

Mr Connolly said: "I'm just glad the process is over and I can get on with my life. It has been a very stressful time but ultimately what matters to me is the recognition that I was treated unfairly at work."

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