Ex-Air Corps captain awarded €117,800 over gender discrimination

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has ordered the Minister for Defence to pay €117,814 in compensation to a former female captain in the Air Corps.

WRC adjudication officer, Stephen Bonnlander has made the maximum possible compensation after finding Yvonne O’Rourke was victim to gender discrimination arising from “an unacceptable systematic failure” in the Defence Forces.

After a seven-year battle by Ms O’Rourke, Mr Bonnlander found she was discriminated against on gender grounds in her efforts to secure promotion.

Based at Baldonnell Aerodrome, Ms O’Rourke asserted the Defence Forces discriminated against her on the ground of her gender, in that it treated two maternity leave absences from work as equivalent to the sick absence of a male officer, and consequently gave her a poor performance rating.

The poor rating for 2010 and 2011 impacted on Ms O’Rourke’s ability to go on a mandatory training course which was required to advance to the rank of commander.

Chief Commissioner of the IHREC, Sinead Gibney stated

That Yvonne O’Rourke was treated by the Defence Forces “as if she were a man who had been on long-term sick leave rather than as a pregnant woman”.

By the time Ms O’Rourke was approved by the general officer commanding of the Air Corps to attend the Junior Command and Staff Course (JCSC), her health had deteriorated to the point that she was unable to take up the opportunity and was later retired from the Defence Forces on the grounds of ill health in July 2016.

In a hard-hitting ruling, Mr Bonnlander stated “It beggars belief that women should have been serving in the Irish Defence Forces for decades, without the Forces’ systems and instruction ever having been appropriately updated to ensure they reflect anti-discrimination law as it applies to pregnancy and maternity”.

The hearing at the WRC for Ms O’Rourke’s case against the Minister for Defence spanned six days.

In the long-running action, Ms O’Rourke was represented by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), which instructed a senior and junior counsel in the case.

Speaking today, Ms O’Rourke stated:

“I hope that what has been achieved in this outcome and  determination will shine some light on the areas of darkness that needed to be revealed within the Irish Defence Forces. I hope that this small victory will somewhat; smooth the path, pave the way forward, and inspire those left behind, to have their difficulties, hurts, issues and problems of; discrimination, victimisation, bullying, harassment and sexual harassment heard and subsequently addressed in a more expedient fashion than my seven-year struggle.”

Read full report on Irish Times website below