Wednesday 29 March 2017

Diplomat loses €20,000 award

Lesbian's failure to get upgrading not due to sexual orientation, says court

Patricia Cullen
Patricia Cullen

Martin Frawley

A COMPENSATION award of €20,000 made to a lesbian diplomat after the Equality Tribunal found she had been victimised by the Department of Foreign Affairs has been dramatically overturned.

Patricia Cullen, a senior diplomat posted to the United Nations in New York, claimed at the tribunal hearing that she had been denied an upgrading by the department "because of her sexual orientation".

Ms Cullen said it was well known in the department she was gay and claimed she was told indirectly by a superior that her failure to secure an upgrading was "because of her lifestyle" and her "lack of appreciation of the family".

Ms Cullen also claimed she was victimised by the department for lodging the discrimination claim.

The diplomat said that after she was posted to the UN, her performance was initially assessed as three out of five and sufficient to remain in what she said was "a prestigious posting".

But three months later, citing that the wrong form had been used in the assessment, Ms Cullen was reassessed and given a rating of two, which, she said, could result in her being recalled from New York.

She argued that this amounted to victimisation because she had previously lodged a potentially embarrassing claim of discrimination against the department on the grounds of sexual orientation.

But the tribunal's equality officer, Conor Stokes, rejected Ms Cullen's discrimination claim, saying the evidence presented was based on hearsay, not documented facts.

Victimisation

However, Mr Stokes did find that the subsequent downgrading of Ms Cullen's performance amounted to victimisation, and awarded her €20,000.

The department, which did not attend the original tribunal hearing because of confusion over the dates, appealed the finding to the Labour Court.

In a four-day hearing at the Labour Court last week, the department called on a number of senior staff to rebut Ms Cullen's damaging allegations.

Those who spoke included the ambassador to Brazil, Frank Sheridan; the ambassador to France, Paul Kavanagh; and the secretary-general to the President, Adrian O'Neill.

They all argued that the treatment of Ms Cullen had nothing to do with her sexual orientation, but was down to "a number of difficulties" with her performance. They also pointed out she remained in her post in New York.

Mr Kavanagh, said he "had never experienced anyone in the department adopting an adverse attitude towards officers who are gay".

Kevin Dowling, the department official who had assessed Ms Cullen's performance, said he was unaware she had lodged a discrimination claim against the department.

Therefore, he argued, the downgrading could not be considered an act of victimisation.

The chairman of the Labour Court, Kevin Duffy, agreed. He "set aside" Ms Cullen's €20,000 compensation award.

Mr Duffy also upheld the tribunal's finding that the department had not discriminated against Ms Cullen.

Efforts to contact Ms Cullen were unsuccessful.

Irish Independent

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