Women lecturers sue NUIG over alleged discrimination

Four staff members claim they were not promoted to senior role due to their gender

Four female lecturers at National University of Ireland Galway have sued the college at the High Court alleging gender discrimination in a competition for promotion.

Dr Sylvie Lannegrand, Dr Rosin Healy, Dr Margaret Hodgins and Dr Adrienne Gorman made unsucessful applications for promotion to positions of senior lecturer under a promotion process operated by the college between October 2008 and April 2009.

The four, represented by Marguerite Bolger SC and Claire Bruton BL, say they were treated less favourably by NUIG on grounds of gender and/or family status.

There was significant disparity in the prospect of success of female applicants compared to males in the promotion competition, they claim. Adequate weight was not given to teaching and research abilities of female applicants and the selection process, including shortlisting was inconsistent, unfair and tainted by discrimination, it is alleged.

Other claims include that candidates were not selected on the basis of their performance and some of the successful male candidates did not meet the minimum requirements of the promotional competition.

The plaintiffs want various declarations including the promotion process breached their contracts of employment and contractual entitlement to gender equality along with provisions of the 1997 Universities Act, the Employment Equality Acts and EU law.

Claiming damages

They also want orders promoting them to senior lecturers from July 1st, 2009 and associated adjustments to their salaries, pension rights and other benefits effective from that date. They are also claiming damages.

NUIG denies the claims and pleads the lecturers have no cause of action against it in the High Court. It says the Workplace Relations Commission is the proper body charged with determining complaints of employment discrimination.

The actions were initiated after the Equality Tribunal found in 2014 another lecturer at NUIG, Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, had been discriminated against on grounds of gender when she was overlooked during the same promotion process. The tribunal instructed the college to promote Dr Sheehy Skeffington, pay her €70,000 and review its appointments system.

There was only one woman on the seven-person interview board and of 17 people promoted to senior lecturer for the whole university, just one was a woman, the tribunal found.

The four plaintiffs had not appealed their failure to be promoted, of which they were informed in April 2009, and did not make a complaint to the Equality Tribunal. Their High Court actions, initiated in April 2015, came before Mr Justice Donald Binchy on Wednesday when NUIG asked the court to direct a preliminiary trial of legal issues.

National interest

Those include whether the Employment Equality Acts modify the lecturers contracts of employment to include an implied contractual right to gender equality and/or confer a cause of action for alleged breach of contract which can be heard by the High Court.

If the court finds the four have a cause of action it is asked to decide if the lecturers’ claims are outside the time limits set in the Employment Equality Acts.

Cliona Kimber BL, for NUIG, argued determination of the preliminary issues would save court time and expense.

Opposing a trial of preliminary issues, Ms Bolger argued the cases raise “complex issues of Irish and EU law” and “matters of national public interest” and should be heard in full.

NUIG’s application was an attempt to have the plaintiffs’ claims struck out in an unfair manner and the most efficient means to deal with the issues raised was to allow the proceedings take their ordinary course, it was submitted.

The judge wull rule on the application next week.