NI agriculture department pays out £50k in discrimination case

Job candidate with hearing difficulties did not get proper support at interview
Crawfordsburn Country Park, north-east of Belfast Photo: Griffirg/Flickr

By Jim Dunton

15 Mar 2024

Northern Ireland's Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs has paid a former park ranger £50,000 following a disability discrimination case.

Christopher Morrow, who has moderate-to-severe hearing difficulties, had worked as an agency-employed park ranger at Crawfordsburn Country Park for around three years when DAERA decided to make his post and several others permanent.

Morrow stated on his job appliction form that he had hearing problems and asked if he could have questions in writing during his interview, but the request was refused.

He said the interview, which took place in February 2021, was held in a large room with a wooden floor and a high ceiling. The panel members were seated behind a screen between four and six metres away.

Morrow said that during the interview, a panel member spoke quickly and with his head down, and that it had been very difficult to hear what they were saying. Morrow was not asked whether he needed any adjustments during the interview.

A total of 15 park rangers were recruited as part of the hiring drive, but Morrow was not one of them. Feedback from DAERA included the comment: "Candidate asked for multiple repetitions of questions meaning the interview ran over time."

He said he was "very disappointed indeed" to miss out on the opportunity to be taken on permanently in a job he really enjoyed. "I think what I asked for was simple and straightforward," he said.

Morrow's case was supported by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.

Senior legal officer Mary Kitson said the Disability Discrimination Act required employers to introduce reasonable adjustments to recruitment and selection procedures for applicants with disabilities, to ensure disabled people are not disadvantaged.

"The purpose of the duty is to enable job applicants who have disabilities to enjoy the same opportunities as all other candidates to obtain and remain in work," she said. "What is reasonable may be different in every case – the law says employers must take such steps as are reasonable to remove any physical or procedural barriers which the disabled person may face when seeking work."

DAERA made its £50,000 settlement without the admission of liability.

However, as part of the settlement, the department and Northern Ireland's Department of Finance have agreed to work with the Equality Commission to make sure policies, practices and procedures conform with the law and are applied effectively.

The Equality Commission said DAERA also agreed to implement any reasonable recommendations the commission may make on training for management and staff.

A DAERA spokesperson said it was "not appropriate" to comment on individual employment matters.

But they added: "DAERA will closely consider the outcome of this case, working with the Equality Commission NI, and implement any lessons learned."

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