Donegal Specsavers ordered to pay €12k to Muslim worker sacked a day after Manchester terror attack

By Gordon Deegan

A County Donegal Specsavers has been ordered to pay €12,000 in compensation to a Muslim woman who was sacked the day after the Manchester terror attack last year.

At the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), Adjudication Officer, Emer O’Shea has found that Letterkenny Specsavers Ltd discriminated against Amina Ferrah on the grounds of religion when sacking the Optical Assistant on May 23, 2017.

In her findings, Ms O’Shea said that she was satisfied on the basis of the evidence presented that Ms Ferrah's dismissal in advance of the standard three-month review constituted less favourable treatment on the grounds of religion and that Ms Ferrah’s non-Muslim colleagues were not the subject to such treatment.

The night before Ms Ferrah was sacked, 22-year-old Islamic terrorist, Salman Ramadan Abedi murdered 22 concertgoers in a suicide bombing attack at an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena.

Crowds fleeing the attack in Manchester Arena in 2017.
Crowds fleeing the attack in Manchester Arena in 2017.

In her case at the WRC, Ms Ferrah claimed that she was sacked on discriminatory grounds “as a knee-jerk reaction to the fact that she was clearly identifiable as a Muslim” - a contention strongly disputed by her former employer.

Ms Ferrah always wore her headscarf to work and her uniform and name badge had been ordered for her by her employer the day before the Manchester attack.

She submitted to the WRC that her employer “may have been overly concerned about public sentiment following the attack and the impact it might have on their business”.

In her case, Ms Ferrah stated that when she turned up for work on May 23, 2017, the shop roster showed that she was scheduled to work the following week.

Ms Ferrah commenced work at the outlet on April 3, 2017, having previously worked for a Specsavers in the UK for two years.

On the evening of May 23, Ms Ferrah said that she was asked to attend a meeting with the company directors where she was told “it’s not working out”, “you are not what we expected” and “you are not interactive enough on the shop floor”.

Ms Farrah said that she was told that her skills lie more in pre-testing and they don’t need anyone in that area “and we will have to let you go”. She asked for a chance to prove herself but was told ‘no’ and that she would be paid up until the end of the month.

Ms Ferrah said that she was very surprised since the feedback she had been receiving up until that meeting was very positive and she was fitting in and working well.

She said that in the days after her dismissal, she met with one of the shop managers who hugged her and told her that she had no idea why she was being let go.

The store strongly denied the claim of discrimination and told the WRC that Ms Ferrah was employed less than two weeks after the earlier terror attack at London’s Westminster Bridge.

However, Mr Ferrah told the hearing that the London attack had to be distinguished from the Manchester attack in terms of the media coverage.

Specsavers told the WRC that the decision to dismiss Ms Ferrah was purely down to performance.

The company alleged that Ms Ferrah lacked crucial skills which were necessary to carry out her role.

They claimed that Ms Ferrah’s contention that she was dismissed because of its concerns over the Manchester terror attack “is an entirely subjective viewpoint of the worker, not supported by evidence and which in no way satisfies the requirement for a prima facie case of discrimination”.

The firm also stated that the mere coincidence that Ms Ferrah was dismissed the day after a terrorist attack in Manchester “is not sufficient to shift this burden of proof from the claimant to the respondent”.

The firm alleged that Ms Ferrah “simply lacked the tools, skill and knowledge to fulfil the role she had been appointed into”.

The firm took "grave issue" over the claim that Ms Ferrah was ever treated less favourably because of her religion.

In finding that the firm did discriminate against Ms Ferrah, Ms O’Shea stated that it was accepted by the company that reviews of new employees would take place at the end of the first three months.

Ms O’Shea found that no records of any reviews have been presented to support the company’s contention of ongoing reviews and no records of any performance deficits on the part of Ms Ferrah were presented.

She found that Ms Ferrah’s evidence that she was never advised of any shortcomings in her performance was credible and consistent throughout the hearing.

Taking all of the matters into account, Ms O’Shea found that Ms Ferrah has established a prima facie case of discrimination on the grounds of religion and found that the employer has failed to rebut it.

Most Read in Ireland