A recent Equality Tribunal decision marks the first time Irish employment equality legislation has successfully been utilised to protect the rights of transgendered persons. Readers will be familiar with the landmark Foy case, which vindicated Ms Lydia Foy's rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Ms Louise Hannon brought a case for constructive dismissal under employment equality legislation. Following her decision to reveal her new gender, her employer advised she could come to the office as a woman but should assume a male identity while meeting clients. She was not allowed to use the female toilets and was not provided with a new e-mail address despite a number of requests. Ms Hannon changed her name by deed poll on 5 March 2007. In April her employer asked her to work from home while a new office was prepared. Expecting to return the following month, Ms Hannon agreed. By the end of July, she was still being asked to work from home, at which point she felt she had no alternative but to leave her employment.
The Equality Officer noted that under EU law, the gender ground protects transgendered persons. Please click here to view P v. S and Cornwall County Council C-13/9. The Officer concluded that Irish employment equality legislation "impose[s] an obligation on an employer to enable a person with a Gender Identity Disorder to allow, within the confines of said workplace, allowing for health and safety, uniform etc. requirements, to accommodate...'real life experience' (in the new gender)". She found that the employer's instruction to work from home was a "way out for the Respondent who did not want to deal with the complainant who was now presenting herself as female". This constituted discrimination on gender and disability grounds. The Officer awarded Ms Hannon of 18 months' pay. Ms Hannon was represented by the Equality Authority and Counsel.
Readers of the Bulletin may remember that the Irish government has committed to provide for the legal recognition of transgender persons. Please click here to view a briefing note prepared by the Free Legal Advice Centres on this issue.
Meanwhile the Transgender Equality Network Ireland has called on the Irish government to extend equality legislation to include transgender people through explicit inclusion of "gender identity and gender expression" as separate protections under the gender ground. Please click here to view their press release.