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Pay-outs for religious bigotry in Ulster soar

Job discrimination is starting to cost millions. David McKittrick repor ts
In the past three months more than £200,000 has been paid out in 22 religious discrimination cases in Northern Ireland, and the number of cases is rising all the time, as Ulster people become less and less tolerant of bias in the workplace.

The money has been handed over by important employers including British Airways and six public bodies. A stream of substantial awards and settlements had already cost public bodies and private companies well over £1m in the past two years, and with more than 500 more cases in the pipeline millions more seems likely to be paid out.

The amounts may well rise steeply, since the Government has recently abolished the upper limit on awards and the volume of complaints is steadily increasing. According to the Fair Employment Commission, the number of inquiries from actual or potential claimants rose 70 per cent in the past year, while cases lodged with the Fair Employment Tribunal rose 16 per cent.

Bob Cooper, the commission chairman, said: "What these figures reveal is that there are more people who are aware of their rights and who are not prepared to put up with behaviour which would have gone unchallenged 20 years ago."

The increasing trend is for employers to settle cases rather than allow them to run their course before the tribunal. Only three of the most recent 22 cases went the distance and resulted in awards: the other 19 were settled for substantial sums.

The bulk of the money has gone to people claiming they were victims of anti-Catholic discrimination. One of the exceptions was a Protestant man who is a councillor for the Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist party. He failed to be appointed as a fitterby a thread firm and accepted a £11,000 settlement.

The largest pay-out, £35,000, went to a Catholic man turned down for a job with the Milk Marketing Board. The tribunal was told he had been interviewed in a "negative, stern, frosty, unfriendly and unwelcoming" atmosphere. In this and a number of other cases the employers denied discrimination, but the board said it had settled because its records were not detailed enough to refute the claimant's recollections.

In another case a Catholic woman received £30,000 from the National Board for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting after being turned down for the post of senior nurse tutor.

In Co Tyrone a Catholic woman received a £20,000 settlement from her former employer, a textile company called Moygashel Ltd, after claiming that she had been unfairly selected for redundancy. The firm settled the case without any admission on its part.

British Airways paid a Catholic employee £11,000 to settle two discrimination claims. The man alleged he had been discriminated against when he applied for the post of duty cargo officer at Belfast international airport.

When he applied for a second post and was also unsuccessful, he alleged he had been victimised because he had complained about his failure to be appointed to the first post. British Airways denied liability.

Public bodies involved in cases included housing, health and education concerns.