Northern Ireland news

Arts Council settles boss Roisín McDonough's age discrimination case for £12,000

Roisín McDonough, chief executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland . Picture by Hugh Russell
Brendan Hughes

THE Arts Council has settled a case with its chief executive for £12,000 after she alleged age discrimination relating to a request for flexible retirement.

Roisín McDonough commenced an internal grievance procedure and subsequently lodged proceedings following a failure to progress her flexible retirement application.

The 67-year-old, who has been chief executive of the public agency since 2000, had applied for flexible retirement in January 2017.

She wanted to reduce her working hours from five days per week to four from April that year, having previously indicated that this might be temporary as she was considering retirement.

But no decision was made and Ms McDonough alleged she was instead asked on several occasions about her plans to fully retire, and if she had decided on a final retirement date.

She also became aware of workplace speculation about when she would retire and who might apply for her job.

Ms McDonough considered this inappropriate and undermining to her position.

She commenced flexible retirement in September 2017 after an internal panel upheld her grievance complaint and recommended that her request be immediately processed.

With the support of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, Ms McDonough brought a case against the Arts Council alleging age discrimination and victimisation.

The Arts Council settled the case without admission of liability.

Thanking the Equality Commission for its support, Ms McDonough said: "It's important if people feel their rights at work are not being upheld that they know they can seek independent support and they will be listened to."

She added: "I believed my flexible retirement request was in line with the organisation's human resources policies.

"I was disappointed that my request was not being progressed and felt under pressure to provide a definite date for retirement.

"I believed that this was inappropriate and that any decision on my retirement should be mine and mine alone."

Anne McKernan, the Equality Commission's head of legal services, said: "Since the introduction of the Age Discrimination Regulation in 2006 and the abolition of the default retirement age in 2011, many people choose to work longer and many employers offer schemes such as flexible retirement.

"This helps our workplace retain talented and experienced members of staff for longer periods, which must be welcomed."

She added: "In settling the case, the Arts Council has acknowledged and regrets the hurt and injury to feelings experienced by Roisín McDonough.

"It has reaffirmed its commitment to the principle of equality of opportunity in employment and will liaise with the commission and review its policies and procedures concerning age.

"It will ensure that these policies and procedures relating to age are communicated to all staff and to board members and that appropriate training is provided."

The Arts Council said it "regrets wholeheartedly the hurt caused to a valued member of our staff" and has agreed to review its equal opportunity policies and refresh its training for board and staff members.

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