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School discriminated against teacher on religious grounds

A CATHOLIC primary school discriminated against a Church of Ireland teacher when it withdrew an offer of a job, an equality officer has found.

The ruling published by the Equality Tribunal refers to a teaching job which Michelle McKeever was offered by Knocktemple National School in Virginia, Co Cavan, in June 2007. The offer was made in a telephone call from the principal and confirmed in writing by the chair of the school board.

But during a phone call in July, the board chair asked Ms McKeever if she had a certificate to show she was qualified to teach religion in a Catholic school. The teacher said she did not but that she was willing to teach the religious programme in the school, and told the chairperson she was a member of the Church of Ireland.

She told the equality officer that she was assured this would not be a problem, but on July 9, 2007, she received a letter from the school board chair withdrawing the offer.

The school claimed the post had to be re-advertised because the principal or the chair did not have the board’s authority to fill the post.

It denied any discrimination on religions grounds and said the teacher was not questioned about her religious affiliation.

However, equality officer Hugh Lonsdale did not accept the contention that the board did not discuss the complainant’s religion at its meeting of July 5, before the offer was withdrawn. He also concluded that the discussion he concluded did take place influenced the decision to withdraw the job offer.

Mr Lonsdale found that this amounted to discrimination on the grounds of religion, in breach of employment equality law.

This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Wednesday, November 17, 2010 By Niall Murray, Education Correspondent

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