Daughter of MLA says she was discriminated against after missing out on 'promised' job
The daughter of East Londonderry MLA John Dallat is suing his former party colleague for alleged discrimination after she failed to clinch a job in the SDLP constituency office which she had been "promised".
Helena Dallat O'Driscoll alleges that former East Londonderry MLA Gerry Mullan discriminated against her on the basis of her gender and marital status by refusing to employ her as his constituency manager.
But an employment tribunal in Belfast was told yesterday that Mrs O'Driscoll's anger relates to her belief, whether "rightly or wrongly" held, that she had been promised the job in the constituency office in Derry.
She was denied the post after giving up her job in a Westminster constituency office in Scotland to return to Northern Ireland and alleges that she was told by the then MLA that "a part-time role is more suitable".
The married mother claims Mr Mullan made the comment following a "significantly detrimental" Skype interview that took place last July, shortly before she was offered the part-time position of constituency adviser.
The more senior post was given to Catherine Goligher, who Mrs O'Driscoll claims lacked the "proper credentials".
Mrs O'Driscoll's legal consultant, Patrick Moore, told the tribunal that his client was "railroaded" into accepting the job in September 2016 due to her financial commitments and was subjected to bullying and harassment which left her isolated in the workplace, before she was sacked in November.
He claimed employees were encouraged to manufacture false grounds of complaint against his client and that she was subjected to a barrage of false allegations and innuendo. Mr Moore alleged that Mrs Goligher - also a married mother - was only appointed "on the realisation that he (Gerry Mullan) had made a significant error".
But Mr Mullan's solicitor, Colin Foote, argued that his client "wouldn't have offered the claimant any role if he had an issue with married mothers" and would not have appointed Mrs Goligher to the senior role.
He also warned the case was fraught with difficulty as the claimant is unable to establish when she was treated "less favourably than a man", as there is no opportunity for comparison. Mr Foote was critical of Mrs O'Driscoll for failing to make a claim within the normal three-month statute of limitations period, and said her concerns were "only crystalised after she lost her job".
Mr Moore said his client didn't complain prior to her dismissal to avoid "worsening" her situation.
Mr Foote dismissed the entire claim, saying it is based "solely on her own speculation" and the real source of anger was that she felt she had lost out on a job she was promised.
He said the material suggesting it was discrimination "simply isn't there".
In total, three alleged acts of discrimination were identified by vice president Mr N Kelly, but he advised there was "little or no reasonable chance" of success.
He said the first two acts relate to the interview process and job offer and the third act relates to Mrs O'Driscoll's dismissal, with no suggestion that anything else occurred in between.
"The fact that both individuals were married with young children raises serious questions about the likelihood of success," said Mr Kelly.
The suggestion that Mr Mullan made the remark "seems inherently unlikely to succeed" because Mrs O'Driscoll "must at least put in place the building blocks to provide a case to answer" and the undisputed fact of Mrs Goligher's appointment stands as a "major hurdle against any claim of discrimination".
Mr Kelly said the argument that Mr Mullan suddenly developed a prejudice against such people "doesn't make sense".
Addressing the timing of the complaint, he asserted that the three alleged acts were "intrinsically linked" and any argument seeking to explain why the claim was only made in December - outside the normal statutory limit of three months - was also unlikely to succeed.
The vice president said that due to Mrs O'Driscoll's line of work she "must be assumed to have known her rights", and would have submitted a claim at the time.
"It seems much more likely that the reason for termination, whether it is right or wrong, relates to the claimants performance and conduct."
The tribunal was told that Mrs O'Driscoll recently found a job working in her father's constituency office and receives a salary of £14,500.
She must pay a £200 fee in order to progress the case, which is listed for hearing in September, but Mr Kelly warned that Mr Mullan has a "reasonable argument" to pursue costs if she loses.