Agri engineer dismissed over stammer awarded €15,000 compensation

By Gordon Deegan

A design engineer for an agricultural machinery manufacturer who was discriminatorily dismissed over his stammer has been awarded €15,000 compensation.

In the case, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has ordered the un-named firm to pay the worker €15,000 after finding that the company discriminated against the man on the grounds of his disability – a severe speech impediment.

In his findings, WRC adjudication officer, Ray Flaherty, stated that he found on the balance of probability “it is more likely that the decision to terminate the worker’s employment had more to do with his disability than with his work performance”.

The worker – with over 30 years’ experience in the manufacturing industry – secured a job at the firm in August 2016 after sitting for a job interview where he made the firm aware that he had a severe speech impediment.

The firm produces grass cutting machines and slurry/water tankers and, less than 12 months into his new post, the man’s boss told him “we’re parting company. It’s not working out”.

However, the worker queried this as it was his understanding that the company was happy with his work; that all his projects were great and that the sales people were happy with him.

In response, the worker said that his boss told him “your designs are good; it’s the whole communication thing. I need someone who can communicate with the dealers and customers. There are basically two halves to the job. Doing the design and also dealing with the customers”.

During his time with the firm, the man’s boss said that he had heard about a “text-to-speech” app which would go on an iPad that would help with his communication.

The engineer stated that he agreed to try out this app but that he found the app was not practical to use in a work environment as it took longer to turn on the tablet, swipe the screen, type the words and press ‘go’ than it did to say it with his stammer.

The engineer also submitted that the volume on the device was too low for use on the factory floor.

On being told that he was to be dismissed in July 2017, the engineer told the WRC that he was “in complete shock” that he was dismissed on the spot without prior warning.

The man claimed that the firm discriminatorily dismissed him due to his disability and that the firm’s treatment of him constituted discrimination on the grounds of disability.

The firm told the WRC that at the July meeting the worker was advised that his contract was not going to be extended due to the ongoing shortcomings in the design drawings he was preparing.

The firm denied in the strongest possible terms that they took no steps to investigate or took no steps to accommodate the worker.

According to the firm, they made every effort to accommodate him.

The firm also submitted that in any event, the worker’s speech impediment did not affect his ability to do his job, which was designing tanks.

The firm referred again to the worker’s own submission that 95% of his job was non-verbal.

The company stated that the worker was not able to design tanks correctly and this was causing the company financial loss and delays in the manufacturing process and it was for these reasons the worker’s contract was not extended beyond 12 months.

At the hearing, the worker produced a text from a member of the firm’s management team on hearing of the dismissal which read: “I can’t understand why… I’m shocked, genuinely… I’m at a loss to understand their reasons… I always said you were getting on great when asked…”

WRC adjudication officer Ray Flaherty stated that the text cast further doubt on the bona fides of the firm’s contention that the man’s employment was genuinely related to poor performance.

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