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: