Scientist who won equality case claims she is being ‘punished’

Retired NUIG lecturer Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington asked to destroy personal data or have her email access removed

Retired NUIG lecturer Micheline Sheehy Skeffington. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Retired NUIG lecturer Micheline Sheehy Skeffington. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy


THE NUI Galway (NUIG) scientist who won an Equality Tribunal case against the university late last year claims she is being “punished” for “highlighting the continued injustice” in relation to treatment of women like her.

Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, who has retired from the university, has been told that her access to the university’s email system will be suspended for six months unless she gives an assurance that she had destroyed all personal data in her possession relating to 30 participants in the 2008/2009 promotion round for senior lecturer.

The university has sought this assurance on the basis of an email which Dr Sheehy Skeffington issued in late March.

The university has also told her in writing that it will “take steps to seek legal redress” if she continues to release university data in contravention of the Data Protection Acts.

Dr Sheehy Skeffington denies she was in breach of Data Protection Acts when she emailed staff with information which, she says,is accessible to any member of staff on the university website.

In her email of March 25th, Dr Sheehy Skeffington included a table listing 30 men and women shortlisted for the 2008/2009 promotion round, showing their current status.

She says her aim was to correct a claim by the university in a recent communication on gender equality sent to all staff that there was “nothing wrong” with the 2008/2009 promotions round.

She noted that 23 men were shortlisted in 2008/9,and one is now a college dean, while 11 are professors, and all but two of the rest are senior lecturers.

She said that “despite there being more women than men as college lecturers”, only seven women were shortlisted in 2008/9 and only one was promoted to senior lecturer.

“None of those women have been promoted since, except for me through winning the Equality Tribunal case,”she says, describing this as “a complete injustice”.

The university’s initial response was to write to Dr Sheehy Skeffington, and to ask staff who had received an email from “a retired staff member, sent on March 25th”, to delete it.

The university told The Irish Times that it was examining a possible “data breach” relating to personal information of university staff.

It said it was “conscious that there may or may not have been a data breach ...and the matter is currently being looked into”.

In its latest communication with Dr Sheehy Skeffington, in which it asks her to destroy the personal data in question, the university has asked her why she issued a letter of apology to the 30 colleagues concerned after sending her email.

Dr Sheehy Skeffington told The Irish Times that she subsequently found out that one of the men that she named in the table was upset, and for this reason she wrote to all the candidates and apologised.

She says that “some of the other men wrote back to say there was no problem” and that they “supported” what she was doing.

Dr Sheehy Skeffington said she believed that the university was trying to “bully her” because of what she knew from the Equality Tribunal case, held in private.

The botanist, who was awarded €70,000 for gender discrimination, was passed over for promotion four times.

The Equality Tribunal ordered the university to promote her to senior lecturer, backdated to July 1st, 2009 and to review its procedures and policies on the selection of academics for promotion to senior lecturer.

The university has since set up a task force on gender equality,but has been criticised for not consulting staff over its composition.

In a statement NUIG said: “a retired member of NUIG academic staff recently issued an email circular to all staff which contained details relating to individual members of staff. The university has a duty of care to protect the privacy of its staff and it takes very seriously any breaches of data protection in respect of personal information,”it said.

“The university will not be commenting on correspondence with individual members of staff on this issue,”it said.

“We would note however that the university is fully committed to achieving gender equality across the organisation and facilitates open ongoing discussions on how we can achieve this with all staff. We have recently appointed an independent task force and look forward to their recommendations in due course,”it said.