Architect at Government housing agency awarded €5,000 after claim over ‘toxic’ male culture

Workplace Relations Commission

Gordon Deegan

An architect at a Government housing agency has been awarded €5,000 in a discrimination claim where she complained of a ‘toxic’ male culture in the workplace.

At the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), Adjudicator, Michael McEntee has ordered The Housing Agency to pay Auveen Coombes-Lynch €5,000 arising from her successful gender discrimination claim under the Employment Equality Act.

In his findings, Mr McEntee found Ms Coombes Lynch’s successful discrimination claim concerning the ‘male culture’ in the workplace is largely arrived from good oral evidence at hearing from Ms Coombes Lynch.

Mr McEntee said he also upheld the discrimination claim concerning the ‘male culture’ from the considered “tactical absence of key management witnesses” who could easily have fully rebutted or indeed supported, under cross examination, Ms Coombes Lynch’s case.

Mr McEntee concluded evidence from and cross examination of these witnesses would have either completely exonerated the Housing Agency or given sustenance to Ms Coombes Lynch’s prima facie case.

Mr McEntee found Ms Coombes Lynch did not establish a prima facie case of discrimination on the gender grounds in relation to ‘promotion’.

A qualified architect, Ms Coombes Lynch joined the Housing Agency in November 2015 as a Clerical Officer and rapidly moved through the ranks to a position of Staff Officer in 2016.

In her evidence at the WRC hearing, Ms Coombes Lynch maintained that despite an exemplary work record and requisite technical qualifications, she "had been subjected to a toxic ‘male only’ culture".

Ms Coombes Lynch claimed this had denied her training and experience “site visits” and as well as a campaign of undermining her in the work routines, had seriously handicapped her from promotions to project manager positions.

Ms Coombes Lynch claimed she had effectively been discriminated against by a manager for being a female in a toxic male culture.

Ms Coombes Lynch's counsel, Peter Leonard BL strongly queried the Housing Agency’s line up of management witnesses and argued the employer was effectively handicapping Ms Coombes Lynch’s case in reducing her opportunities to challenge Housing Agency witnesses especially in the area of management actions.

In her evidence and vigorous cross examination by the Housing Agency’s lawyer, Ms Coombes Lynch maintained that her manager had, by a series of actions diminished her status, created a culture where the necessary, for recruitment CV purposes, of ‘site visits’ was discouraged and generally made it clear that it was a 'male' environment especially on the technical side.

Ms Coombes Lynch said in May 2018, she applied for a project manager (PM) position and was successfully placed on a 12-month panel.

In June 2019, the panel having expired, she applied for another PM position.

However, a colleague was informed by a senior manager that “he was the right man for the job” just three days after the position was advertised.

Ms Coombes Lynch said, unsurprisingly, the male colleague was appointed following the interviews.

Ms Coombes Lynch alleged she was given a site visit opportunity but in a sexist manner regarding what clothes she should wear.

A key issue was the fact that she was expected to do her ordinary day’s work as well as the site visit and this stipulation was not required of male colleagues.

Mr McEntee found Ms Coombes Lynch’s evidence was well delivered “and she presented as a very creditable professional officer”.

He said: “However, the difficulty for her was that she was effectively relying on her version of events regarding the male culture without supporting evidence.”

Housing Agency lawyers maintained Ms Coombes Lynch’s claim was based on disappointment with her results in the recruitment processes.

A lawyer for the Housing Agency argued various allegations about managers, things allegedly said or not said and a purported “toxic culture” could not substitute for real evidence.

The Housing Agency also claimed the fact that Ms Coombes Lynch had successfully made the panel of successful candidates completely negated her allegations of discrimination.

The Housing Agency further claimed, regarding suggestions and purported alleged assumptions of gender discrimination against Ms Coombes Lynch by various individuals, these were simply unfounded and have no evidential basis.

The Housing Agency further argued Ms Coombes Lynch’s claim has to be rejected as the complaint lacks the required standard of proof to establish a prima facie case of discrimination and is replete with baseless unsupported suppositions.

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