Former charity employee awarded £31,000 by tribunal

A woman who was overlooked for promotion when her post at a Northern Ireland cancer charity was abolished has been awarded nearly £31,000 after winning a claim of unfair dismissal and sex discrimination at an industrial tribunal.

The tribunal found that Action Cancer’s decision in 2005 to overlook retail support officer Catherine Megahey for the newly created higher-level post of retail manager, giving it instead to a male colleague who worked under her, amounted to sex discrimination.

The tribunal report said the successful candidate, Mr Lynch, whose first name was not given, should not even have been invited for interview because his application was “seriously lacking on information”. The report also criticised the charity for not having any women on the shortlisting panel.

At the interview, Megahey was awarded seven more points than both Lynch and another female candidate, Clayre Sloan. In the second interview, Lynch received one more point than Megahey in the second interview and was appointed.

Megahey admitted in the interview that she was perceived by staff as being abrupt, but said she would be firm but fair. The interviewers said this attitude was in conflict with the organisation’s philosophy, but, after examining the interview notes, the tribunal concluded it was a “harsh, crude and unwarranted judgement to make that the claimant is a person who could not lead people, work as a team member, motivate people and who is, in fact, abrupt, rude and does not know how to motivate/manage people”.

Megahey was subsequently offered Lynch’s vacated post but the tribunal concluded she was “not unreasonable” to decline it. Two subsequent internal investigations concluded there had been no sex discrimination in the appointment process.

The tribunal also concluded that there was “no difference of substance” between Megahey’s case and that of two other male staff members – their posts had also been abolished and they were promoted internally to new higher-level posts. She was awarded a total of £30,892 in respect of unfair dismissal and sex discrimination.

Action Cancer described the tribunal’s decision as deeply disappointing and said it ignored the fact that over the past three years the number of women working for the charity had increased by 52 per cent. It also pointed out that the tribunal had rejected Megahey’s allegation that sex discrimination against females had been common at the charity during recent years. It said it was taking legal advice about a possible appeal.

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