€2,000 for job applicant asked about settling into a 'young' workplace in Guinness Storehouse interview

The operators of the country’s top fee-paying tourist attraction must pay out after an unsuccessful job applicant was asked at interview how she would settle into a ‘young’ workplace.

In the case, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has ordered the Guinness Storehouse Ltd to pay Eileen Owens €2,000 after it ruled that the question discriminated against Ms Owens on the grounds of age.

WRC Adjudication Officer, Roger McGrath stated that there is no doubt that Ms Owens was asked about how she would settle into a “young” workplace.

Mr McGrath stated: “I can think of no reason why this question would be asked except to find out the complainant’s view of her ability to carry out the role of Financial Assistant given her relative age."

He added: “Whether conscious or unconscious this question indicates that age was a factor in the selection process, with a bias towards younger candidates."

Ms Owens was one of 136 candidates that applied for the role of financial assistant and nine were called for interview.

Mr McGrath stated that a younger candidate was successful and he found that Ms Owens was treated less favourably than a younger candidate comparator.

Mr McGrath rejected the Guinness Storehouse contention that the question asked at interview about the “young and vibrant” work environment did not indicate an intention to discriminate against Ms Owens on age and that Ms Owens was reading too much into a few words.

At hearing, Ms Owens stated that she lodged her claim as a matter of principle and to prevent things like this happening in the future.

In her evidence, Ms Owen said that at an interview, she was asked: “We are a very young team here, how would you feel about that?”

Ms Owens stated that this question was prefaced by the comment from the questioner:

I’m going to ask a question, I probably shouldn’t be asking this but I’m going to ask it anyway.

Ms Owens stated that she was taken aback by the question but answered it as best she could.

Ms Owens stated that her general reply to the question was along the lines of: “I’m young at heart, I don’t look my age, I have a 24-year-old daughter, I am experienced at work and work well with all colleagues, regardless of age”.

Ms Owens stated that she found it difficult to concentrate for the remainder of the interview as she was in disbelief of the question she had been asked.

Ms Owens stated that she could not understand why the Human Resources Business Partner who was on the interview panel had not intervened.

Ms Owens stated that she felt very aggrieved by how the interview was conducted and stated it has left her feeling very apprehensive when attending other interviews.

After Ms Owens failed to get the post, the Guinness Storehouse told her that the interview panel felt she was “over qualified” for the position but would be positive towards her for any future more senior financial roles.

In its evidence, the Guinness firm denied that it had discriminated against Ms Owens.

The Diageo company denied that the allegation in question was put to Ms Owens during her interview at all during the recruitment process and it further denied that any discriminatory ground informed the firm’s thinking and decision-making.

The firm also denied that any question was put to Ms Owens with any intention or purpose of being discriminatory on the grounds of age.

The interviewer accepted that that she had asked a question using the word ‘young’ and this was in reference to the culture of the workplace.

She denied that she had said, “I shouldn’t be asking this…”.

At the hearing, when asked what exactly she meant by 'young', the interviewer stated that she should have just said ‘fast-paced’.

The interviewer stated that she did not want it to sound discriminatory and it had no impact on the selection.

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