Sanctions against lecturer in bat sex case lifted by court

 

A LECTURER at University College Cork has won a High Court order quashing sanctions imposed on him following an inquiry into sexual harassment allegations made by a female colleague to whom he had shown a paper on the sex life of fruit bats.

The president of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, ruled yesterday the sanctions imposed on Dr Dylan Evans were “grossly disproportionate”. He returned the matter to the president of UCC Dr Michael Murphy, for a fresh consideration in light of the court’s ruling.

Dr Evans, a behavioural science lecturer in UCC’s department of medicine, should have been admonished or received a verbal warning rather than being required to undergo counselling and two years of monitoring, Mr Justice Kearns said.

That sanction was disproportionate.

A subsequent decision by the head of the school of medicine, arising out of those sanctions, not to recommend Dr Evans as an “established” lecturer made the sanction “grossly” disproportionate, he added.

The judge refused to grant orders overturning findings of an external investigation that, while Dr Evans had no intention to offend in showing the paper to his colleague, the incident fell within the definition of sexual harassment under UCC’s duty of respect and right to dignity policy.

Dr Evans had brought judicial review proceedings against the college seeking to quash the findings of the two-person external investigation team set up to inquire into allegations by Dr Rossana Salerno Kennedy of sexual harassment by Dr Evans.

He also sought orders to quash the sanctions subsequently imposed on him.

The case centred on an incident on November 2nd, 2009, when Dr Evans was passing by Dr Kennedy’s office and showed her a scientific paper entitled Fellatio by Fruit Bats Prolongs Copulation Time.

She made a formal complaint and an investigation was undertaken.

Following a two-day hearing, Mr Justice Kearns yesterday declined to quash the investigation findings but said he would quash the sanctions imposed on foot of those findings.

He declined to make any order in relation to a separate disciplinary hearing started by the college last May in relation to breaches of confidentiality over the matter. This was “an unfortunate byproduct” of the case and another matter for another day, he said.

The judge also awarded costs to Dr Evans, who said outside court he was “very happy” with the outcome.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Kearns noted the scientific article complained of, dealing with experiments undertaken in China, was a very technical document, written in very small print with nothing of a lurid or graphic nature or anything photographic.

The article was awarded an “Ig Nobel” award for papers which may have humorous content as well as serious scientific material, and that was the case here, the judge noted.

The print in the paper was so small that, when Dr Kennedy was shown the article, she said she would need to get her glasses before she could read it, the judge said. Whatever the motive Dr Evans had for producing it, he had also produced it to a number of other people that day.

Dr Evans’s case was that Dr Kennedy greeted the showing of the paper with amusement and he was unaware of any offence having been taken, Mr Justice Kearns added.

In a statement, UCC said it welcomed the court’s decision to uphold its finding that Dr Evans was guilty of sexual harassment.

It said it noted the court’s ruling regarding the sanctions imposed on Dr Evans and its disciplinary proceedings against him in respect of “breaches of confidentiality”, would now proceed.