An Irish local government council has been forced to pay $100,000 in compensation to a sacked born-again Christian, who was discriminated against because of his religious views.
John McAteer was fired from his job after failing to comply when his South Tipperary County Council bosses told him to stop talking to the public and staff about his religious views.
Ireland’s Equality Tribunal ruled that McAteer had been discriminated against and awarded him $100,000 compensation.
The Irish Times reports that McAteer was dismissed after repeatedly failing to comply with senior staff members who told him to stop speaking about his faith to workers and members of the public during office hours.
McAteer told the tribunal that the tenets of his religion require him to speak to people about Jesus and share the Gospel with them.
He had worked as a civil engineer with Clonmel Borough Council from December 2007 until his dismissal in July 2010.
He was first informed by the council’s human resources officer that the council had received a complaint about his speaking about his faith in the office in April 2008.
McAteer was told not to talk about religion during the working day, including during his lunch break.
He said he found this particularly difficult as speaking to others about his faith was integral to the practice of his religion.
At a disciplinary meeting in June 2008 he was warned that if he continued to disregard instructions from senior management and share his faith with people during normal working hours he would be sacked.
He received a final written warning after another incident in August 2008.
McAteer was suspended without pay for two months in June 2009 and ordered to see a professional to help him with his compulsive behavior after he was spotted talking to a man outside a coffee shop about religion.
A year later the borough council manager informed McAteer that he was to be dismissed after speaking about Jesus to a contractor working at the council offices.
Lawyers for McAteer told the Tribunal that he was an evangelical Christian who sought to manifest his beliefs by sharing his faith with others. They said this type of practice constituted a fundamental tenet of his belief system.
They argued that McAteer was not facilitated in the practice of his beliefs by the council and that, as a result of practicing them, he was accused of gross misconduct.
The County Council claimed that McAteer was not dismissed because of his religious beliefs but because he continually failed to comply with the directions of senior members of the council.
The council also claimed declarations concerning human rights protect the right to hold a religious belief but that no right is absolute and unlimited.
Equality officer Marian Duffy noted that European charters on human rights and freedoms protect a right to manifest one’s religion and, therefore, the manifestation of religion is covered within the Employment Equality Acts.
The Irish Times reports that Duffy said she was satisfied 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 added that the ban placed on him from sharing his faith between 9am and 5pm impacted disproportionately on people of his religious faith.
Duffy added: “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.”
She noted that McAteer has only succeeded in finding part-time work since his dismissal.
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