A NURSE who twice battled breast cancer has been awarded €85,000 by an equality tribunal after it found the HSE had attempted to "freeze her out" so that she would retire early on the grounds of ill-health.
The staff nurse, who was not named by the tribunal, said she was forced to retire aged 59, after her employer sought to move her to a number of different units which were unsuitable given her disability.
The woman twice battled breast cancer, in 1994 and again in 2002, and was left with a condition known as lymphoedema, which caused swelling in both her arms.
Despite suffering chronic health difficulties, she spent over 10 years working in a community residential unit which catered for patients with learning, behavioural and psychiatric disabilities who were relatively placid.
However, in September 2009 she was told she was being moved to a "locked ward". The nurse told the tribunal she believed her transfer was the result of her making a complaint of bullying against a superior.
She raised concerns that working in the new unit could lead to her suffering an injury and, on the first day she worked there, her lymphoedema was exacerbated due to the more physical nature of the work.
The nurse was offered a number of different posts – none of which she felt were suitable.
At a meeting with a senior human resources representative in April 2011, she said she was told "we are fast coming to an end of what we are willing to tolerate from you".
A doctor specialising in occupational health was instructed by the HSE to assess the nurse's condition. She found the nurse had successfully managed her disabilities for the previous 10 years and should be allowed to continue in work. However, she said the nurse should not work in a role that places her at "significant risk of personal injury".
The HSE denied that the nurse had been moved from her original post because of the bullying allegation and said there was a "personality clash" between the nurse and her superior.
It denied discriminating against the nurse and said it had tried to put in place reasonable accommodations for the nurse, but their offers were rejected out of hand.
However, in her conclusion, Equality Officer Valerie Murtagh said, "no appropriate or suitable posts" were offered to the nurse.
"I consider that the respondent [HSE] sought to 'freeze her out' so that she would retire early on ill-health grounds."
She described the testimony of a HSE employee relations manager as "contemptuous" and "quite disdainful".
Awarding the nurse €85,000, Ms Murtagh said the woman had been constructively dismissed after 35 years' service as a nurse, even through two bouts of cancer.