UCD denies gender discrimination against female academic
Dr Eleanor O’Higgins claims she was passed over for promotion because she is a woman
Dr Eleanor O’Higgins has alleged a failure to promote her to the rank of professor in the School of Law and Business in University College Dublin amounted to gender discrimination. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times
University College Dublin has denied claims the Labour Court did not properly assess material concerning promotions within the college when dismissing a complaint the failure to promote a senior female academic to professor constituted gender discrimination.
In High Court proceedings, Dr Eleanor O’Higgins, a senior lecturer in the UCD school of law and business, claims the Labour Court, having found aspects of the univsersity’s promotion selection processs raised an inference of gender discrimination, then erred in how it assessed evidence from both the promotions committee, known as UCAATP, and herself.
Dr O’Higgins contends it is significant, when her application for promotion in 2007 was rejected by UCAATP, the only two women promoted professor that year were from the arts faculty and no woman from any other faculty was promoted professor.
The promotions committee which considered the applications included a female professor from the arts faculty, she added.
In the 2007 round of promotions, there were 19 candidates, of whom 15 were men and four were women, she said. Of the 15 men, six were promoted while two of the four women were promoted. Three men were promoted to professor within the UCD school of law and business.
In concluding such statistics indicated no evidence of gender bias on the part of the UCD promotions committee, the Labour Court erred, she claims.
Disputing those claims, Cliona Kimber BL, for UCD, argued the evidence indicated the Labour Court properly scrutinised the evidence before it before correctly concluding UCD had rebutted any prima facie inference of gender discrimination.
Mr Justice John Cooke heard final arguments on behalf of UCD and Dr O’Higgins before reserving his judgment on the action by Dr O’Higgins for orders directing the Labour Court to reconsider its August 2013 rejection of her claim of gender discrimination.
The court heard the Labour Court had expressed concern about aspects of the UCD promotions process, including the gender composition of the UCAATP committee that rejected Dr O’Higgins application. It committee comprised 12 men and one woman. The Labour Court also expressed disquiet there was no written record of UCAATP’s deliberations.
Ms Kimber argued the Labour Court, in going on to conclude the UCAATP decision was not tainted by gender discrimination, did so on the evidence before it, including from Prof Colin Scott of UCAATP that the committee had considered Dr O’Higgins had not met the “gold standard” required for elevation to professor, plus evidence concerning promnotions in UCD.
The Labout Court decision was plain, if a bit terse, counsel said. While it did not give a detailed basis for rejecting the complaint, it would be new law if a decision making tribunal had to do so.
Closing the case for Dr O’Higgins, Mark Connaughton SC rejected the suggestion the case required creation of a whole new area for judicial review. His complaint was simply that the Labour Court had not addressed Dr O’Higgins’ detailed claims and did not set out what UCAATP had said to contradict those.
All the Labour Court did was to produce a “formulaic” account of the evidence without any basis for its finding, counsel argued.