UCC lecturer has sanctions quashed

 

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” and 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, he said. 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 the external investigation found, while Dr Evans had no intention to offend, the incident fell within the definition of sexual harassment under UCC’s “Duty of Respect and Right to Dignity” policy.

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 by-product” 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 or 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, the judge said. 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, the judge said.

One of the points raised during the High Court hearing was that the investigation failed to interview a third person, a Dr Patricia Chalmers, who DR Evans claimed was present when the paper was shown to Dr Kennedy.

The judge agreed with counsel for UCC the onus was on Dr Evans to have brought this claim before the court either through affidavit evidence from Dr Chalmers or through cross-examination of her and of the two investigators.

The judge said it was claimed Dr Evans, for whatever reason, had misunderstood the findings of the investigators and seemed to believe the sexual harassment claim was not upheld. When he realised what the actual findings meant, Dr Evans said this caused him and his partner considerable distress.

Dr Evans also complained the matter had been needlessly escalated instead of being dealt with on an informal basis as provided for by the college rules, the judge said. However, matters moved on and the investigators made their findings and the college president imposed the sanctions.

The judge said he could see nothing which would have precluded the UCC President dealing with the matter by way of verbal warning and it could well have been this could have disposed of the matter in its entirety.

However, the sanctions were imposed and that set Dr Evans into a spiral which was going to have adverse consequences, he said. These were “extremely serious sanctions” which were imposed.

While disagreeing Dr Evans had had no opportunity to make submissions before the sanctions were imposed, the judge said he did not believe Dr Evans had realised how serious the situation was and that the “roof was about to fall in on him” as far as his career was concerned.