NUI Galway refuses to divulge cost of settling gender-row cases

Confidential settlement involving four lecturers required sign-off by the Government

Four female NUI Galway lecturers whose gender discrimination cases against the university has been settled. They are pictured with Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor.

Four female NUI Galway lecturers whose gender discrimination cases against the university has been settled. They are pictured with Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor.

 

NUI Galway (NUIG) has declined to comment on the amount public money involved in settling a high-profile gender discrimination row involving the university.

It was confirmed on Wednesday that four female lecturers who argued they were discriminated against on gender grounds will be promoted by NUIG as part of a High Court settlement. Actions were brought by Dr Sylvie Lannegrand, Dr Róisín Healy, Dr Margaret Hodgins, and Dr Adrienne Gorman.

The financial settlement in the case required sign-off by the Government, sources said. It is understood that the bill for legal costs on both sides and compensation could rise to anywhere between hundreds of thousands of euro and upwards of €1 million.

The university confirmed only that it had reached an “amicable” and confidential agreement with each of the four lecturers. It has declined to comment further on the settlement on the basis that the terms are confidential.

The High Court heard on Wednesday that the cases had been resolved and Mr Justice Charles Meenan struck them out on consent between the parties.

Family status

The lecturers had claimed their applications for senior positions in the various departments they worked in were unsuccessful following promotion process operated by the college between October 2008 and April 2009. They also said they were treated less favourably by NUIG on ground of their gender and or family status.

Following the case, the Irish Federation of University Teachers called for all issues related to gender and age discrimination to be resolved by negotiation or through normal labour law procedures rather than expensive legal cases.

“The legal costs of this NUI Galway case are clearly very high,” said Joan Donegan, the federation’s general secretary. “There has been evidence over the years that universities have spent exorbitant amounts of taxpayers and student fees money on barristers and legal fees in similar cases.”

She said while universities generally were seeking to address equality issues, progress was unacceptably slow.

Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connorsaid third-level institutions needed to take greater steps to ensure more women are represented at senior levels. In welcoming the NUIG settlement, she said: “Gender inequality is discrimination, pure and simple, and I am committed to ensuring this wrongful practice stops in our higher education institutions.”

Siptu, which represents some staff at NUI Galway, also welcomed the settlement but warned that the cases were “just the tip of the iceberg”.

“Discriminatory and unfair employment practices faced by women and men across all grades at the university is rife,” said Maggie Ronayne, co-chair of Siptu’s academic section committee at NUI Galway.

Promotion schemes

NUIG says it has moved to address issues around the under representation of women in senior ranks through gender quotas for promotion schemes, along with inclusivity and unconscious bias training programmes for managers and staff.

The case involving the four lecturers followed an Equality Tribunal ruling in 2014 which found that another lecturer, Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, had been discriminated against on gender grounds.

The college was ordered to promote Dr Sheehy Skeffington, pay her €70,000 in compensation and review its appointments system. Dr Sheehy Skeffington paid tribute to the lecturers.

“I am delighted for them as I know it’s been a terrible strain over the last four years,” she said. “It is also thanks to their courage, and the resulting publicity that their cases generated, that all academic women will benefit from radical changes that have been promised for both NUI Galway and for all Irish universities.”