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
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
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."