The five women who along with Micheline Sheehy Skeffington were not promoted in 2009 despite being shortlisted and deemed eligible have now submitted their papers seeking damages at the Circuit Court. This follows a meeting in December with the NUI Galway president Jim Browne in which he failed to indicate his intention to correct the injustice the women had experienced by promoting them.
Their solicitor, Breege McCaffrey of Deirdre O’Connor and Partners, has also served their court papers on the president. The five are seeking promotion to Senior Lecturer back dated to 2009, on the basis of the Equality Tribunal ruling in Micheline’s favour ( They can no longer take a case at the Equality Tribunal themselves as too much time has passed) They plan to follow the lead of Dr. Sheehy Skeffington and donate any damages they receive to help other women at the university fight discrimination.
The women have retained two barristers who are regarded by many as the best in Ireland on equality issues, Clare Bruton, the junior council who won Micheline’s case and senior council, Marguerite Bolgar. Both barristers were very keen to be involved, as this case will be highly significant for gender discrimination, and have offered to do their work on reduced rates. However although Micheline will contribute her €70,000 damages the eventual costs are likely to run much higher if each of the five cases are transferred to the high court.
It is the university’s indifference and continued failure to remedy the injustice experienced by these women that has left them with no other choice than to take on this expensive and onerous task of seeking recompense through the courts.
There have already been numerous opportunities for the university to correct its abysmal record on gender equality. As far back as 2010 the university’s Academic Council recognised that the 2009 round of promotions, where only one woman was promoted against 16 men, were questionable.
As a result of this glaring imbalance, the university set up a ‘review’ to look into how to address what is seemed to acknowledge as blatant discrimination against women in promotions to senior posts. However, the systemic nature of the discrimination and the lack of motivation for real change at the top means that as we move into 2015 there has been no real change. After the Equality Tribunal found in late 2014 that Micheline had been discriminated against in 2009, the University President accepted the finding unreservedly and yet has failed to take any remedial action by promoting these 5 women. Thus twice the university has acknowledged the injustice that happened to these women, and rather than put it right has pledged to instigate another ‘review’ in the form of a task force.
The University President has argued that although he is sympathetic to the five women it was not possible to simply promote them because it might open NUI Galway to other claims, such as those by any man also not promoted. However, when one digs a little deeper into the facts, it’s easy to see that the president’s claim does not hold water. There were only seven men deemed eligible but not promoted in 2009. As you might not be shocked to find out, four of these men were subsequently promoted in 2014 whilst none of the women were!. It seems likely that this is another, in what has become a very long list, of presidential excuses for why no immediate or recognisable action can be taken.
Therefore we are left with a situation where 5 women who were deemed eligible for promotion, in a system acknowledged by the equality tribunal and the university itself as inadequate have still not had their promotion granted to them. What they are looking for is acknowledgement of their worth and value in a university in which they have given numerous years of service. They now face a long court challenge, hefty legal bills and possibly years of personal upheaval as the university again prepares to dig in its heels and resist necessary change. Indeed it seems that change at NUI Galway will never come from any mechanism within its own system and especially not from senior management, and this is why Micheline Sheehy Skeffington now wants to start a campaign at NUI Galway based on the incredible support she has received from students and staff. She wants to force the University President to relent and promote the five, and should that not work, to start fund raising to pay their legal costs.