It’s over! We’ve won! NUI Galway has finally, after four long years, settled with the four female academics taking the High Court cases for gender discrimination in the promotion round of 2009. Today at the High Court the cases are to be withdrawn. We don’t know the settlement details but we do know that all the women ever wanted was their rightful promotion to Senior Lecturer and their pay backdated to 2009, or some equivalent. They were not seeking compensation as part of any possible settlement.
We know this deal was done in February by the new University President, Ciarán hÓgartaigh, when he met with the four women at his first opportunity, having had to wait for one of them to return from abroad. Whatever the settlement was that he offered them, the women accepted it at that meeting. Since then NUI Galway has been waiting for government approval, having to defer the court cases twice in the mean time. The deferred hearing, of NUI Galway’s attempt to have the cases dismissed on a technicality, was rescheduled for today.
Micheline is delighted by the news and impressed with new President hÓgartaigh’s actions. The settlement is just one of several that show he understands the need to correct the way women have been treated at NUI Galway. In her statement, sent out to the press and us, Micheline points to the stark contrast with the previous regime at NUI Galway, lead by President Jim Browne.
“That President Ó hÓgartaigh settled these cases so easily and so soon after coming into office gives the lie to all those claims by the previous regime that there was nothing they could do! In fact the previous President, Jim Browne, could have solved this situation four years ago when I went to see him after my Equality Tribunal win and told him everything I’d found out! But he just dismissed me, and then he dismissed the four women when they later went to see him before commencing their High Court cases. The previous management regime believed they could always bully women into backing down.
“I arranged that meeting with President Browne to share all the information I’d found out about the 2008/9 round of promotions. Some of it wasn’t mentioned in the Equality Tribunal ruling and I wanted him to know how badly it would affect NUI Galway’s reputation if it became public through a High Court case. Jim Browne just cut me off and said they could weather it, that there would be good news the following week and everyone would forget it. Well he was totally wrong, wasn’t he? NUI Galway ended up with four years of bad publicity and a very large legal bill because of that!”
Micheline also praised the courage and fortitude of the four women who took the court cases, as do we. Dr Adrienne Gorman, Dr Róisín Healy, Dr Margaret Hodgins and Dr Sylvie Lannegrand, have had to endure an awful four years. As did Dr Elizabeth Tilley who took a separate Labour Court case which was resolved last year. Until recently, when it became clear that they were likely to eventually win, it was a lonely time for them, during which they had to withstand threats from management and the real risk they might lose their case and have to pay large legal bills. As Micheline points out:
“It was the courage of these five women to stand up to the endemic bullying of women at NUI Galway that has led to this result. It is also thanks to their courage, and all the resulting publicity generated through the resulting campaign, that all academic women will benefit from the radical changes promised both for NUI Galway and for all Irish Universities.”
“So as well as congratulating them, I really want to thank them. What they did was as courageous as my grandmother Hanna Sheehy Skeffington’s smashing of Dublin Castle’s windows for women’s suffrage. Hanna was imprisoned, but that was for just two months. These women have had to endure four years! “
The High Court cases followed Micheline Sheehy Skeffington’s Equality Tribunal win of 2014, in which she proved gender discrimination in the 2008/9 round of promotions to Senior Lecturer. In that round 16 men were promoted but only one woman, even though more than 50% of junior lecturers were women. Through that case Micheline got to see the application forms of all 30 academics who were shortlisted and so was able to state categorically that the five other women shortlisted but not promoted were also discriminated against and should be promoted.
After her win Micheline went to see President Jim Browne to tell him everything she had discovered through her case and to ask him to promote the five other shortlisted women. When he refused, she gave the €70,000 compensation she was awarded by the Equality Tribunal to help fund the women’s court cases. Then she called a meeting in NUI Galway at which this campaign was started to support the women. Since then she and we have been fighting to ensure NUI Galway does the right thing by these five women. The background and all the campaign actions are on this web page.
Last year one of the five, Dr Elizabeth Tilley, was promoted through a Labour Court case that was not based on gender discrimination. She was ranked next in line for promotion by the promotion board and could argue she should be promoted as Micheline’s case had revealed that one of the promoted men wasn’t eligible to apply.
Micheline has never spoken of the scandal she uncovered through her Equality Tribunal hearing, which was held behind closed doors, but we have revealed what the campaign has worked out for ourselves and how President Jim Browne is implicated. Interestingly, Micheline is actually now free to talk about it herself, if she should choose to. If she had revealed anything previously, NUI Galway could then have argued in the High Court that the four women should not be allowed access to the same ‘personal’ information.
Micheline finishes her statement with a call for NUI Galway to go further:
“I now call on the new University President to commit NUI Galway to widen the changes they are implementing for women to include improving the conditions of all in short term teaching and research contracts, most of whom are women at NUI Galway, as well as the women in admin and building services who have been much mistreated through lack of respect, understaffing, low status and poor pay.”