A university has been ordered to pay €50,000 compensation to a "highly valued" student counsellor it compulsorily retired at the age of 68.

At the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), Adjudicator, Bríd Deering ordered the University of Limerick (UL) to pay student counsellor, Michael O'Mahony €50,000 compensation for its breach of Employment Equality legislation.

Ms Deering found that UL’s dismissal of Mr O’Mahony when retiring him on 9 March 2021 against his wishes constitutes a discriminatory dismissal on grounds of age contrary to the provisions of EU law and the Employment Equality Acts 1998 - 2015.

Mr O’Mahony told the WRC that he wanted to work until he was 70 and was fit and capable of doing so.

Mr O’Mahony stated that his age was held against him and it was important to him as a respected hard-working member of staff that he be treated with dignity and respect.

Mr O’Mahony argued that the manner of his dismissal was a sad way to end what was otherwise a very happy and rewarding career with UL.

He said that he was focused on his work "and assisting distressed students".

In her findings, Ms Deering stated that Mr O’Mahony described the joy and fulfilment his work with UL brought him daily.

Ms Deering stated that UL recruited several other counsellors and there was a considerable demand for the expertise and experience Mr O’Mahony could offer UL and its students.

Fully capable

Ms Deering stated that Mr O'Mahony was fully capable of undertaking the work and did so for years after the age of 65 and continues to do so in private practice at the age of 70.

Ms Deering stated that it is well established that the imposition of a mandatory retirement age is discriminatory per se, and to be lawful such a mandatory retirement age must serve a legitimate aim and the means deployed to achieve that purpose must be appropriate and should go no further than is necessary.

She stated that UL contended that it retired Mr O’Mahony because the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956 required them to do so.

However, Ms Deering stated that no evidence was proffered by UL at the hearing regarding the background to the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956 or the policy reasons for it.

Mr O’Mahoney delivered 19 hours student counselling per week for UL for which he was paid a gross salary of €38,874 per annum.

Mr O’Mahoney has over 53 years experience working with young people and continues to work in his own private practice.

Highly valued employee

UL stated that Mr O’Mahony was a highly valued employee and a great resource to the students. It argued that it had to adhere to the legislation by requiring him to retire.

UL stated that had Mr O’Mahony been directly employed in 2001, he would have retired in 2017.

UL argued that the delay in implementing his retirement should be seen favourably as it allowed Mr O’Mahony to work almost to his 69th birthday.

Mr O’Mahony was engaged by UL in January 2001 as an independent contractor and he was placed on the payroll on 1 January 2019.

From that date to September 2019 efforts were made to regularise Mr O’Mahony’s employment and agree a contract of employment and a written contract was not finalised.

UL argued that given that Mr O’Mahony was now regarded as a public servant employed prior to 1 April 2004, a compulsory retirement age of 65 years applied to him.

On 5 December 2017, Government made a policy decision to revise the compulsory retirement age for public service employees recruited prior to 1 April 2004 to the age of 70.

UL stated however that this Act excluded from its scope any public servants who had or should have retired prior to the date of enactment on 26 December 2018 and therefore, Mr O’Mahony’s retirement age was not extended to the age of 70.