In latest stall tactic, NUIG gains approval for pre-trial hearing

Just the legal arguments, not the facts?

SUMMARY: As noted on this website on July 22nd, NUI Galway applied recently to the High Court seeking a pre-trial hearing of the cases being taken by the four female lecturers who are suing the university on the basis of gender discrimination in the 2008/9 round of promotion to Senior Lecturer. The judge ordered the preliminary hearing yesterday, as reported in The Irish Times. The Times story, which follows below, is mired in legalese, but basically the ruling means the judge considers that most of the issues in the women lecturers’ case can be decided independently of factual matters at the hearing. This is a stall tactic that is typical of the university, which is trying to prevent the facts of the case from coming out. It remains to be seen what will be decided at the pre-trial hearing, but this is only the beginning of the women lecturers’ fight for their right to be promoted. We’re not giving up.

Judge orders preliminary hearing in NUIG discrimination case

Four female lecturers alleging gender discrimination in a competition for promotion

The Equality Tribunal found in 2014 that NUIG lecturer, Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, was discriminated against on grounds of gender. File  Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy/The Irish TimesThe Equality Tribunal found in 2014 that NUIG lecturer, Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, was discriminated against on grounds of gender. File Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy/The Irish Times

A judge has granted an application by National University of Ireland Galway(NUIG) for a trial of preliminary legal issues before a full hearing of actions by four female lecturers.

They are alleging gender discrimination in a competition for promotion.

The preliminary issues centre on whether the lecturers’ claims can be dealt with by the High Court or must they be first determined by the Workplace Relations Commission and/or Circuit Court.

Mr Justice Donald Binchy on Tuesday granted the college’s application for a preliminary trial. A date for that will be fixed later.

Lawyers for the lecturers had argued the issues would be most appropriately dealt with at a full hearing as the cases raises “complex issues of Irish and EU law” and “matters of national public interest”.

In his brief ruling, Mr Justice Binchy said he considered most of the issues could be decided independently of factual matters at a pre-trial hearing.

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 answer to that question is yes, the judge said the High Court should also decide whether the Acts require that any proceedings for redress for alleged breaches of rights be heard by the WRC or Circuit Court or could a claimant also seek redress under common law.

Other issues are whether EU law gives rise to an independent cause of action for damages in the High Court for alleged breach of an implied contractual right to gender equality and whether the Universities Act gives rise to a cause of action in the High Court for breach of contract.

Statute barred

Another issue concerning whether the lecturers’ cases were statute barred (brought outside the legal time limits) may involve mixed issues of law and fact, the judge noted. If the judge hearing the preliminary issues considered the statute point could not be determined without a full hearing, that issue would go forward to the full action, he said.

He will give a written judgment later outlining his full reasons for directing a trial of preliminary issues.

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

The four say they were treated less favourably by NUIG on grounds of gender and/or family status. They 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.

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, pleads the lecturers have no cause of action against it in the High Court and 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, was discriminated against on grounds of gender during the same promotion process.

The college was ordered to promote Dr Sheehy Skeffington, pay her €70,000 and review its appointments system.

And here is the link to the actual story in The Irish Times:

NUI Galway tries to prevent High Court cases revealing why the female lecturers were not promoted in 2009

On Wednesday last, NUI Galway applied to the High Court seeking a pre-trial hearing of the cases being taken by the four female lecturers who are suing NUI Galway on the basis of gender discrimination in the 2008/9 round of promotion to Senior Lecturer. This is the same round of promotion for which Micheline Sheehy Skeffington won her Equality Tribunal case. The application hearing was extensively reported but none of the media mentioned a possible reason for this move by NUI Galway.

If NUI Galway are successful, the resulting pre-trial hearing will deal only with the legal arguments and not the actual facts of the case. This will mean the High Court will not order NUI Galway to hand over the documents that Micheline Sheehy Skeffington used to win her case. Micheline is not allowed to reveal the details of what she found out from these documents, other than anything included in the Equality Tribunal ruling itself. What she has said, however, is that six of the men promoted in that round were bumped up by senior male members of the University. This is in addition to the male academic who was promoted even though he was ineligible to apply. The extent of this injustice was why she offered her €70,000 damages award to these women so they could take their court cases.

A pre-trial hearing dealing with the legal arguments alone will also mean NUI Galway management will not be cross-examined in the High Court. Management will not have to answer questions about these embarrassing facts concerning the 2008/9 round of promotions or about how the ineligible candidate managed to be shortlisted in the first place. Management told the Equality Tribunal this was due to an ‘administrative error’, however, as we have recently revealed on this web page (Was it really an administrative error that allowed an ineligible man to apply and be promoted in 08/09?), they would be foolish to try to defend this claim under cross-examination in the High Court.

Meanwhile it is notable that NUI Galway management have now agreed to deal with the claim of the fifth shortlisted female lecturer not promoted in 2008/9 by negotiation rather than through the Labour Court. She could take this much simpler and cheaper Labour Court case as she was next in line for promotion and so directly affected by the fact that one of the promoted men was ineligible. By telling the Labour Court they were now willing to deal with this case by negotiation, NUI Galway will also prevent any embarrassing information from the 2008/9 round of promotions being revealed. Not that there seems to have been any negotiation so far, even though it is now nearly two months since the Labour Court hearing.

During the application at the High Court on Wednesday, the barrister acting for NUI Galway claimed a pre-trial hearing was justified as it would save lots of money. That seems extremely ironic to us, coming as it does from someone representing a university which is known for the amount of money it spends on law court cases. From what we hear, many of those law court cases are taken, as with this application, simply as a way of keeping the truth from coming to light. The presiding judge will give his decision next Tuesday. Let’s hope he turns them down.

Here is the RTE report on Wednesday’s hearing:



Mindfully throwing money away


Here is a piece from the Sunday Times with more evidence that NUI Galway cares only about its image. This is the mindfulness conference which the campaign demonstrated outside last year: BE MINDFUL TO WOMEN: Peaceful Protest at NUIG Conference Raises Awareness of Discrimination We handed out leaflets pointing out how management had recently saved money by cutting the wellness program which included lunch-time meditation sessions. That program was costing peanuts compared to this mega expensive publicity exercise – the local woman teaching the lunchtime sessions was only receiving travel expenses. No ‘gifts’ for her!

At the time NUI Galway announced they were to become the ‘first mindful university in Europe’. That statement had the same hubris as Jim Browne’s recent pronouncement welcoming the equality Task Force report. He said NUI Galway would become the ‘leaders in this space’ which ignored the small detail that NUI Galway are currently considerably worse than any other Irish university for the promotion of women and continue to fight five women in the courts.

Another example of that hubris occurred with the HEA committee looking at third level gender inequality. We are told, all the university presidents were summoned to a meeting which Jim Browne didn’t attend, sending Gearóid Ó Conluain in his stead saying he had another meeting he had to attend. The chair Máire Geoghegan-Quinn was incensed and literally bellowed at poor Ó Conluain. What could be more important than doing something about gender inequality when it was the case Micheline Sheehy Skeffington won against NUI Galway which was responsible for the committee being set up!

Here is the Connacht Tribune article with all the details on the conference expenses.




HEA report nails Irish universities on need to promote academic women

The HEA expert committee’s review of gender equality in Irish higher education published its report yesterday. The report is excellent! The committee, chaired by Máire Geoghegan-Quinn recommends that future funding should be conditional on universities successfully addressing their poor record on promoting women. You can read the report here:

Media coverage of the report again highlighted how NUI Galway is the worst of all the Irish universities for promoting women to senior posts. That is also excellent!

The Irish Times, which devoted half a page to the report on Monday, with three articles, also mentioned the need to resolve the outstanding court cases at NUI Galway.  Which makes it three times excellent!! Here are the Irish Times articles:

Micheline Sheehy Skeffington welcomed the report in a letter published in the Irish Times today, Tuesday 29th June. In it she emphasised the need for the HEA to publish annual statistics measuring the position of women which are robust so that we can all monitor whether their promises are fullfilled. Her letter refers to the facts regarding the Irish Glass Ceiling Index that we reveal in the post following this one. Here is her letter:


Scepticism surrounds EU’s SHE Glass Ceiling Index statistics: What is the truth about Irish universities’ ranking?

One of the statistics that Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington regularly quotes, and one we have referred to many times on this Web page, is the position of Ireland, second to worst after Malta, for the Glass Ceiling Index (GCI) for European academics. The GCI is the measurement of the percentage of women in senior posts relative to the percentage of women in all posts. If there is no difference, and therefore no glass ceiling, the index will be 1, while the higher the index above 1, the worse the glass ceiling is. Here is the figure we have been referring to, which shows the relative position of each European country, slightly adjusted for ease of reading.

GCI Ireland corrected 2009

This graph comes from the European Union’s SHE figures published in 2009. Every three years, the European Union produces this set of statistics which assesses the position of women in science (including political and social science), engineering and technology. The statistics cover universities and technological institutes for all European countries, both those within and outside of the European Union. These figures provide a comparison of the relative position of academic women in senior posts between countries, the only such comparative statistics we have.

In the next set of figures, from 2012, no data were supplied from Ireland and Malta for the GCI. Their absence left Cyprus as the worst country in Europe in terms of the Glass Ceiling Index.  We assumed that Ireland and Malta were embarrassed at being on the bottom so they did not submit data. In response, we simply kept on using the 2009 figures, but meanwhile looked forward to the publication of the 2015 SHE figures, wondering whether Ireland would reappear next time, and if so, where on the list.

The 2015 figures were due out at the end of last year but were only finally issued in early May this year. To our great surprise, Ireland had shot up the ranking so that it was now 7th from best. Ireland was up there with Norway, Denmark and Iceland, all known for their much better record for promoting women to senior posts. Even more amazing, Malta was now top! Here are the equivalent 2015 figures, the layout adjusted for ease of comparison.

GCI Ireland SHE2015

Note that the Glass Ceiling Index for every other country has improved by only a few decimal points over their result for 2009, and their relative position has changed little. The index for Ireland, however, has improved from 3.8 to 1.45 over the 6 years. Compare that to the UK,  for which the index has improved from 2.4 to 2.25.

So one of our supporters wrote to the EU to find out how this disparity might have come about. The supporter was passed to the ‘Statistical Correspondent for Ireland’, a civil servant from the Strategic Policy Division in the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. She in turn has been in correspondence with the Higher Education Authority (HEA). After some consideration, the two departments have agreed that the data submitted for the 2015 SHE figures were inappropriate and, consequently, they have reverted to the HEA head count used in the 2009 SHE figures. As a result, Ireland is back at the worst end of the GCI graph along with Estonia, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Lithuania. Here is the same graph but with Ireland’s result corrected to the new GCI supplied by the government.

GCI Ireland corrected 2015

But we are still puzzled. The Irish GCI was 3.80 in 2009; it is now 2.32. That is still an incredible improvement compared to the 0.15 drop the UK managed in the same period, and, therefore, still not believable. The 2009 index was derived from university-only totals, according to the SHE report, while the newly proposed index includes institutes of technology and colleges for the total staff numbers. However, totals of Grade A staff came solely from universities as there is no equivalent at other institutions of learning of full Professors undertaking research, as defined in the SHE report. Correcting the index by using only the university head count as sent to us makes little significant difference to the index. So our supporter has now written back asking if the HEA might also be able to account for the still-significantly marked GCI improvement. We hope to update you. Meanwhile, we publish at the end of this post the figures the supporter was sent and how they were apparently calculated. Perhaps someone reading this post can work out how the HEA have managed this statistical feat. If so, let us know by making a comment on this post or sending us an e-mail.

And as for Malta? In the 2009 SHE figures, Malta provided data only for 2004 and had a GCI so high, it was off the graph as we printed it. In the 2015 SHE figures, Malta provided data only for 2013 and managed a GCI less than 1! This remarkable change seems likely to be due to a government not giving this statistical exercise the respect it deserves. It is important that Ireland is never again associated with such questionable results. Later this week, the HEA will present their report on proposed changes to address the lack of promotion of female academics in Irish universities. The Glass Ceiling Index in the SHE figures, which rank Ireland within Europe, will be the means of checking whether any changes which are adopted are working.

The following is the information sent to one of our supporters regarding Ireland’s GCI:

IrishGCIsent (1)

Was it really an administrative error that allowed an ineligible man to apply and be promoted in 08/09?

In our post on this web site of May 31st in response to the NUI Galway’s legal threats (University tries to shut down this Web page!) we said we would publish a few small bites from the information we have found out or been sent. This is the first of those bites.

The Equality Tribunal Ruling in favour of Dr Sheehy Skeffington refers to a male candidate who was ineligible even to apply but who was promoted over Dr Sheehy Skeffington, and that NUI Galway (‘the respondent’) had admitted that he was ‘technically ineligible’. NUI Galway explained that this had come about through an ‘administrative error’ because ‘the Associate Secretary in charge of running the competition sent a memorandum to a member of his staff stating that all candidates are eligible who would reach the top of the scale on 1st January 2009 (rather than the closing date of 31st October 2008 as stated in the Circular)’. But was this really an administrative error? This is a valid question as it has been reported that a whistle blower in NUI Galway has recently sent fifteen instances of appointment and promotion malpractice to the Higher Education Authority.

Some time ago the campaign was given the actual memo in question, along with other administrative material relevant to this and other matters mentioned in the ruling. Here is the memo:

redact memo.jpg

The Associate Secretary who sent this memo is now retired. In 2008 he had been in post for a long time, long predating the recently appointed President, Jim Browne. He was a man known for his integrity and fairness. As Associate Secretary he was responsible for the administration of the promotion round in question, thus he also sent out the previous circular announcing the promotion round, with the correct date.

Here is the circular:


redact circular.jpg

Note that there is less than six weeks between the dates on which the two documents were sent out. It seems surprising to us that someone of the experience of the Associate Secretary should forget the correct eligibility date in such a short time. Also surprising is the wording of the memo. According to the Equality Tribunal ruling NUI Galway explained that the Associate Secretary sent a memorandum to a member of his staff stating that all candidates are eligible who would reach the top of the scale on 1st January 2009. But while the circular mentions eligibility the memo does not, instead it reads as if the writer is being very careful to avoid mentioning eligibility.

The Associate Secretary was also responsible for the application forms filled in by each candidate. His name and office is at the end of the form as where to send it when completed. At the start of the form under ‘Eligibility’ it states the following: A Lecturer who has attained the maximum point of the salary scale, above the bar, at the closing date for receipt of applications shall, provided he/she has been confirmed in post, be eligible to apply for promotion.’ As well as this making it even more surprising that the Associate Secretary could have made an error in the memo, it also makes it surprising that anyone ineligible should have applied. They would have received the circular making it clear they were not eligible and then filled in an application form which also made it very clear they were not eligible. Applying for promotion in the academic world is not something done lightly. It is a lot of work: assembling teaching portfolios, CVs, etc., and then, for this round, having to submit seventeen copies.

There is yet another surprising aspect of the memo. This is the date given in error, which was 1st January 2009, which was a Thursday.  All examples of application processes on the NUI Galway web site have closing dates, and eligibility dates, at the month end, or at the week end. They are also never on a public holiday. While NUI Galway might choose to make an exception to this for a real date, 1st January 2009 is a surprising date for someone as experienced in these matters as the Associate Secretary to have chosen by mistake.

Then finally there is a surprising coincidence. The campaign knows the name of the ineligible candidate, which can be worked out from minutes of the Academic Council given to the campaign. From his web page it is possible to find out when he became eligible for promotion. It was 1st January 2009.

Other minutes we were given show how within two weeks of his promotion there was a specially convened meeting where the ineligible candidate  would be expected to have, at least, the status of a Senior Lecturer. However, we do not want to reveal this information because it means also naming the individual concerned. We feel he has suffered enough.

We are also not accusing anyone in management of having ordered the Associate Secretary to change the date to allow the ineligible candidate to go forward for interview. We are simply pointing out some surprising aspects to the memo.



Will NUI Galway ever learn?


Since we put up the post (below this one) announcing how NUI Galway is threatening us and with legal proceedings for defamation, this site has had more than 2,300 ‘views’ over 48 hours. That’s the highest total since April 2015! And what was the news story in April 2015? NUI Galway was threatening then to prosecute Micheline Sheehy Skeffington. That was for an e-mail she had sent to all staff detailing the inaccuracies NUI Galway had sent to all staff concerning her Equality Tribunal case. Will they ever learn?

When NUI Galway took down the campaign’s Secret Cartoonist exhibition in the middle of the night, they received another lorry load of bad publicity. Don’t they get it? Universities can’t behave like nasty business corporations. Society expects them to be open, principled and well meaning. Every time NUI Galway acts like this, it will get a big negative reaction.

In the 2015 e-mail Micheline sent to all staff, she included a table comparing what had happened to the women, as opposed to the men, since they were shortlisted in the 2008/9 round of promotions for which she won her case. All the women, bar the single one promoted to Senior Lecturer then, were still College Lecturers, but more than half the men were now Professors – even some of those not promoted in 2008/9! The university claimed that Micheline was revealing private personal information and ordered all staff to destroy the e-mail. However, that table was assembled by supporters from information available on the university’s own Web page. Micheline’s solicitor wrote to NUI Galway to point this out and ask for an apology, but there has never been a reply. Additionally, misinformation about the tribunal is still on NUI Galway’s Web page.

This constant bombast is harming NUI Galway. The university is becoming a laughing stock. And it is entirely unnecessary. Micheline has told us that before our Web page was even an idea, before the campaign started, before the university’s Task Force was appointed, right back when she had just won her case, she met with university management and detailed what she had found out through her Equality Tribunal case. As well as stating that she wanted them to promote the five other women who had suffered the same injustice, she voiced concern that eventually the information would come out through the court cases and give the university a bad name. She said she did not want to harm the university. Our objective is also not to harm NUI Galway. We simply want them to address the injustice and promote the five women.