Four of the five female lecturers who were passed over for promotion in 2009 along with Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington have now submitted papers to the high court.The papers have also been served on the president of NUI Galway, Dr Jim Bowne.
Dr Sheehy Skeffington won an Equality Tribunal case at the end of last year in which the Tribunal listed over ten instances of gender discrimination or failure of process that did not just apply to Dr Sheehy Skeffington. This included the promotion of one male candidate who was not even eligible to apply.
The four taking the case are Dr Margaret Hodgins, Dr Sylvie Lannegrand, Dr Adrienne Gorman and Dr Róisín Healy. The fifth female lecturer, Dr Elizabeth Tilley is pursuing a separate case in the Labour Court.
The five have met a number of times with NUI Galway’s senior management in the hope that the matter could be resolved without the need for a court case. However, although the university admitted that the round of promotions was flawed and the university president publicly stated he wanted an ‘amicable agreement’, still the management have dug in their heels and refused to promote the 5 women. It appears that the management feels that a long protracted legal process will delay the need to make any immediate change. Many of the current management team will reach the end of their tenure in 2 years time and some sources within the university say that they are willing to ride out the storm until then rather than take any embarrassing u-turns.
However, the pressure from students and staff shows no sign of abating, rather there is a mood of growing frustration with the management’s disregard of the protests which have taken place so far. Some within the university have dismissed the campaign as just ‘angry chanting students’ and have yet to acknowledge the widespread discontent present among staff.
The student campaign set up at NUI Galway to support these women’s cases is also fund-raising to help them. The campaign is offering a free T Shirt with a cartoon lampooning the University management under the title “Mr Browne’s Boys” to anyone who donates at least €10 to the court costs. In just two weeks they have raised over €2,000.
Both of the unions at NUI Galway, SIPTU and IFUT, are also supporting the women’s cases and union officials from their Dublin offices met with the five women to co-ordinate their actions. Joan Donegan, deputy general secretary was there to represent IFUT, as was Noel McGuire, SIPTU’s national representative for education.
The five women initially submitted papers to the Circuit Court to contest the most recent promotion round (when both they and Dr Sheehy Skeffington were again turned down) under the Equality Act, an action which has to be taken within six months. But their principal aim is to contest the previous promotion round which was described by the Equality Officer as ‘ramshackle’ and in which sixteen men and only one woman, who was ranked seventeenth as revealed in the ruling, were promoted. The two separate cases are likely to cost the four women far more than the €70,000 offered to them by Dr Sheehy Skeffington. The two unions have now also offered financial contributions.