Northern Ireland

Larne Grammar teacher 'discriminated against'

A teacher at Larne Grammar School has been awarded more than £5,000 after a tribunal found she was the victim of indirect sex discrimination.

Julie Muldrew was appointed a head of year in 2008.

However, she had to relinquish the post between 2008 and 2010 when she reduced her working week for childcare reasons.

In 2010, she returned to full-time work and resumed the head of year role but in 2011 again reduced her hours for the purposes of childcare.

She was again required to give up the head of year post and, at that stage, lodged a claim of indirect sex discrimination.

The school had defended its policy saying that important pastoral care responsibilities meant that a head of year had to be employed full-time.

However, the tribunal found that making Mrs Muldrew stand down from the role was not a proportionate way of "achieving the legitimate objective of securing pastoral care for pupils at the the school."

The tribunal said that it appeared that witnesses for the school "had completely shut their eyes and ears to the possibility of unlawful discrimination against members of the teaching staff".

The unanimous decision of the tribunal was that Mrs Muldrew would have been able to perform her duties as head of year while working four days a week.

The school has also been ordered to pay Mrs Muldrew a sum equivalent to the head of year allowance she was required to give up from September 2011 to the end of that academic year.

Ms Muldrew said she was delighted that the tribunal had unanimously acknowledged the need for employers to give fair consideration to the needs of women working part-time.

"Challenging this was a very difficult experience for me," she said. "But I feel that it has been worthwhile in achieving change, not just for myself, but for other part-time workers."

Anne McKernan, of the Equality Commission, said the decision highlighted the fact that employers had to exercise great care in implementing policies which might disadvantage people working reduced hours.

"In Northern Ireland 40% of female employees work part-time compared to 7% of male employees and 85% of part-time employees are women.

"Any measure which excludes such workers from a particular post is likely to have an adverse impact on women and may amount to indirect sex discrimination, if it cannot be justified."