Supreme Court makes landmark equality ruling

A recent decision by Ireland's Supreme Court, in a key equality case, has reaffirmed the primacy of EU Community law over domestic law.

In what legal experts in Ireland have highlighted as a landmark case on the issue of indirect sex discrimination, Ireland's Supreme Court has asserted the primacy of EU law over domestic law. Mary Honan, a legal expert with the Employment Equality Agency said that the decision also established the correct legal framework for establishing unlawful indirect discrimination.

The case, Bailey Gibson V Nathan, involved a female employee of the Bailey Gibson printing company, who claimed that she was discriminated against under Ireland's 1997 Employment Equality Act, after she was refused a job as a printer. The company's central argument was that it was prevented from promoting her to the position as this would have run counter to an agreement which it had with the Irish Print Union.

In its judgment, the Court stated that: "this court is in the same position and under the same obligations as any other national court to interpret the provision of section 2(c) and section 3 of the Act, as far as possible in the light of the wording and purpose of the Directive [Council Directive 76/207/EEC on equal treatment for men and women in employment, training, promotion and employment conditions] vi. establishing that there shall be no discrimination on grounds of sex either directly or indirectly..."

The Supreme Court also set out a clear method of establishing indirect discrimination, something which had not been done before. The Court said that it is sufficient to show that the practice complained of bears significantly more heavily on members of the complainant's sex than on members of the other sex. The Court noted that:"At that stage the complainant has established a prima facie case of discrimination and the onus of proof shifts to the employer to show that the practice complained of is based on objectively verifiable factors which have no relation to the plaintiff's sex."

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