Large payout for council worker sacked for speaking about Jesus

25 July 2014

iSTOCK

A MAN who was dismissed from his post as civil engineer with Clonmel Borough Council, Co. Tipperary, for speaking about his faith during working hours, has been awarded €70,000 by the Irish Equality Tribunal.

John McAteer, a Christian, brought the claim against South Tipperary County Council after he was dismissed for allegedly disregarding senior-management warnings, issued on a number of occasions, not to discuss his religion in the workplace, or with members of the public, during working hours or during his lunch break.

Mr McAteer, who was employed by the council for three years, told the hearing that he was called to a disciplinary meeting after complaints had been made, and warned that he would be sacked if he continued to disregard instructions of senior management by sharing his faith with other people during normal working hours.

In 2009, he was suspended without pay for two months, after being observed talking about Jesus to a man outside a coffee shop. He was ordered to seek professional help for his "compulsive behaviour". He was finally dismissed in 2010, after having a similar conversation with a contractor at the council offices.

Counsel for Mr McAteer described him as an Evangelical Christian who sought to profess his faith by sharing it with others.

The complainant found it very difficult not to talk about his religious beliefs, as this aspect of his faith was an important part of his religious practice.

The council maintained that he was not sacked because of his religious beliefs, but for continually failing to comply with the directions of senior management. It submitted that declarations on human rights protect the right to hold religious beliefs, but no right was absolute or unlimited.

An equality officer, Marian Duffy, noted that European charters on human rights protected the freedom to manifest a person's religion, and, therefore, such manifestation was covered by the Employment Equality Acts.

"The treatment of the complainant, and the monitoring of him by council staff directly related to his religious beliefs and the manifestation of these beliefs," she said. The ban imposed on his sharing his faith between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. had a disproportionate impact on people of his religious faith.

"For these reasons, I am satisfied that the complainant has established a prima facie case of discriminatory treatment in relation to his conditions of employment and dismissal."

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