Catholic woman’s claim of Bible college bias pursued after her death is rejected
Discrimination claims made by a deceased woman against her former employer, Belfast Bible College, have been dismissed by a fair employment tribunal.
The family of the late Colette Wright took the case on behalf of the ex-employee within the college's administration team.
The mother-of-four from Lambeg died in February 2017 but her husband Brendan transferred the legal action to his name and pursued the case against both the college and its director of operations, Alan McCormick.
The backbone of Mrs Wright's case was that Mr McCormick, as an evangelical Protestant, was "consistently nasty" towards her because she was a Catholic from a perceived nationalist background and that he instigated the alleged discriminatory treatment for this reason.
Her family believe she may have been the only Catholic working at the college and was discriminated against on religious/political grounds.
In addition, it was claimed Mrs Wright suffered discrimination due to her age and gender.
All allegations were contested by the college, founded in 1943 and now based in Dunmurry.
Mrs Wright was employed by the college as a part-time receptionist from November 2003 until her voluntary redundancy took effect in April 2016 when she was almost 61 years old.
It was claimed that when interviews were being carried out in 2008 for the director of operations role, Mr McCormick was the only candidate not to acknowledge Mrs Wright as she sat in the reception area when he left the college afterwards.
Mr McCormick denied that he would have deliberately ignored Mrs Wright and said he may have been preoccupied with the interview.
It was conceded that there was no way at this point Mr McCormick could have known or suspected Mrs Wright was Catholic.
Mrs Wright had also claimed that Mr McCormick drew her religion to the attention of other members of staff, one of whom allegedly said to her: "Alan tells me you are a Catholic."
The tribunal heard that she was annoyed because "it was not Mr McCormick's business to disclose her religion to people at the college".
In another incident, Mrs Wright claimed that she was asked by a colleague what church she went to, who responded "Oh" and walked away when she told him that she attended St Colman's Roman Catholic Church.
In his evidence, Mr McCormick categorically denied ever having discussed her religion with anyone else.
On a further occasion, Mrs Wright claimed he shouted at her for not passing on a message from his wife.
Mr McCormick had asked her to find out or inform him if his wife called as his mother was ill.
He was frustrated later on to learn from Mrs Wright that she had forgotten to tell him about a phone call from his wife.
Mr McCormick admitted that "in the heat of the moment" he had reprimanded her but denied shouting at her.
Mr Wright told the tribunal that his wife "was made to feel uncomfortable" as the only Catholic working in an evangelical college when she was asked to photocopy "anti-Catholic literature" about the Protestant reformer Martin Luther.
He said his wife hadn't made a big deal of it at the time and didn't complain as it was part of her job to photocopy teaching and other materials.
The tribunal also heard that Mrs Wright believed Mr McCormick was behind the decision to make her redundant in late 2015 and she regarded him as "unapproachable and not trustworthy".
The hearing was told that until this point she had "appeared to be very happy" working for the college and had raised no formal complaint or grievance.
However, the college said that Mr McCormick had not been the "decision-maker" when it came to redundancy.
The nine-day tribunal later determined Mrs Wright's unlawful discrimination claims be dismissed in their entirety.
It also ordered that an agreed sum of £1,099 in unpaid wages be paid to her family.
Yesterday, Prof Ken Brown, chair of the college board, said: "While disappointed that any proceedings were brought, since we would prefer to handle matters relationally, we welcome the decision of the tribunal in rejecting all claims of discrimination, thereby exonerating the college and its staff member.
"We hope that the tribunal's conclusion brings resolution for all involved."