A woman has been awarded €1,500 in compensation after the Workplace Relations Commission ruled it was discriminatory to question her about her nationality when she wore a headscarf to a job interview.
Narimene Saad had complained under the Employment Equality Act against Deeward Ltd, claiming she was discriminated against on the basis of both her race and religion when she interviewed for a position with the firm on 4 April 2021 - a claim partially upheld in a decision published this morning.
The company had denied discriminating against her at all.
She told a hearing that she was invited to an interview for a part-time weekend job at the firm's premises in Ballycoolin that day and met the company’s operations manager, Ray Sood.
She said Mr Sood "looked at her from top to bottom" when she arrived and she formed the view that he "did not expect someone wearing a head scarf" even though she had mentioned this on the phone when she was invited for interview, she said.
Mr Sood "sat down and looked at his computer and conducted the interview with his arms crossed," with his first question being to ask where she was from.
She said she first answered "Germany" and that Mr Sood then asked her where she was "originally from".
She replied that she was German, but was originally from Algeria - and went on to tell Mr Sood that question "should not be asked", she said.
Ms Saad said she told the interviewer she "was there to interview for a job" and that Mr Sood replied "ok".
After this, he told her the job available was based in Rathcoole rather than Ballymount - and was a full-time position, she said.
She replied that she could not take up a full-time post because of her childcare duties and pointed out the job advertised was part-time.
Ms Saad said the interview ended without Mr Sood asking her about her skills or previous work experience.
She told adjudicating officer Breiffni O'Neill she believes the company "was not interested in hiring her for a front line position because she wears a headscarf".
The company, which was represented by Clerkin Lynch Solicitors, said in its submission that Ms Saad was one of just five candidates shortlisted out of 40 applicants who answered an advert for an administrative assistant position.
But it said it was recruiting for both part-time and full-time hours and said the same ad referred to two different schedules.
Mr Sood, the operations manager, said in his evidence that he told Ms Saad the part-time job in Ballymount was no longer available but that he had a full-time job open in Rathcoole.
He "asked her if he could keep her CV on file because he believed she was a very good candidate and [had] a brilliant CV," he said.
Mr Sood told the hearing he could not recall whether he made a comment about Ms Saad’s headscarf but asked her where she was from "as he believed they had something in common".
He "would not have asked it if he thought it would have made her feel uncomfortable", he added, and said he asked other candidates such a question "sometimes".
He said the part-time job Ms Saad wanted was offered to the first candidate to interview for it because "it is hard to hire good employees and half of the people he calls for interview do not turn up".
Mr Sood said he had hoped Ms Saad might be interested in the Rathcoole job.
The company’s solicitor argued Ms Saad’s case was "comprised of unsubstantiated allegations with no objective evidence" and that the facts in the case were not enough to raise an inference of discrimination.
The company denied discriminating against Ms Saad "as alleged or at all during the interview process" and submitted that the recruitment process was "fair and transparent".
"Asking the complainant, who was wearing a headscarf, about her nationality at an interview raises an inference of discrimination in the circumstances," wrote the adjudicator, Mr O'Neill, in his decision.
He found that similar questions were not asked of the Irish candidates or candidates of other nationalities who were not wearing headscarves.
"The respondent said the question was asked in the context of a friendly chat as he is the son of immigrants from India. I cannot accept that it was an appropriate question," he wrote.
Mr O’Neill wrote that Mr Sood had not accepted Ms Saad’s first answer and "pursued the issue".
"This could convey an indication that he did not employ people from certain countries," he wrote, adding that the precedent established by the Labour Court was that there was "no need to establish intention to discriminate".
He found she had established a prima facie case of discrimination on the basis of race - but rejected the suggestion that she was discriminated against on religious grounds because of her headscarf.
Ms Saad had "failed to provide facts of sufficient significance" to support her argument that the company "did not want to employ a person wearing a headscarf" for a "front office job", Mr O’Neill wrote.
He wrote that he accepted Mr Sood’s evidence that the job had already been filled by the time Ms Saad was interviewed and that he had asked to keep her details on file for future roles after she turned down the full-time position.
Mr O’Neill ordered the company to pay €1,500 in compensation for discriminatory treatment on the grounds of race.