Sunday 16 December 2018

€1.2m bill for taxpayers as DCU loses dismissal case

John Walshe Education Editor

TAXPAYERS face a legal bill of €1.2m after Dublin City University lost a three-year court battle to dismiss an associate professor.

And taxpayers could also be saddled with a compensation bill for the academic over the damage done to his reputation.

In the Supreme Court this week, Mr Justice Hugh Geoghegan ruled that the university did not follow fair procedures in seeking to dismiss Professor Paul Cahill, an associate professor in the school of biotechnology.

It upheld a High Court ruling made three years ago that his termination was invalid.

The case had its origins in a discussion between Prof Cahill and the university president, Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski on March 10, 2006.

At that meeting, Prof Cahill said there had been an offer from NUI Galway to take up the chair of molecular medicine.

In the following months, Prof Cahill never indicated a date for his proposed departure, despite pressure from his 'exasperated' employer, which brought matters to a head by deciding the only course open to it was to dismiss him.

Failure

The Supreme Court this week upheld the High Court ruling that Prof Cahill was entitled to a notice of termination even if he did not clarify his position as to whether he was leaving the university.

"This was not done," Mr Justice Geoghegan ruled. "That failure is sufficient to determine the case in favour of the respondent (Prof Cahill) but it must be said that his position is less than fully meritorious.

"In my view, the appeal should be dismissed but no final decision should be made as to the form of order without a further hearing preceded by written submissions from both parties as to the form of order and any relief to be granted," ruled Mr Justice Geoghegan, whose six-page judgment was endorsed by Mrs Justice Susan Denham and Mrs Justice Fidelma Macken.

But sources said the ruling was an embarrassment for Mr von Prondzynski, coming a few days after an Employment Appeals hearing into another dismissal case involving a second academic, Dr Sean O'Nuallain.

In this instance, the university was appealing a 2003 rights commissioner ruling that Dr O'Nuallain should be reinstated to a permanent position, with no financial loss.

DCU maintained it did not terminate his employment and that Dr O'Nuallain had "repudiated" his contract.

Neither DCU nor Prof Cahill would comment last night when they were contacted by the Irish Independent.

Irish Independent

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