Sunday 20 October 2019

Lecturer awarded €10k after she was told male students 'would do her' in a number of sexual harassment incidents

Waterford Institute of Technology
Waterford Institute of Technology

Gordon Deegan

A female college lecturer who was told how male students "would do her" in one of a number of incidents of sexual harassment has been awarded €10,000.

In the case, the Labour Court has ordered Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) to pay the €10,000 compensation to Ms Louise Walsh for not doing enough to prevent the sexual harassment of the academic by male agricultural science students.

Chairman of the Labour Court, Kevin Foley has ordered WIT to pay Ms Walsh the €10,000 for “the distress and the effects of sexual harassment and harassment based on her gender”.

In her case before the Labour Court, Ms Walsh told how she had been sexually harassed by a large group of male students in her class on various dates between October 10th 2014 and March 19th 2015.

In one incident on October 24th 2014, Ms Walsh said that she had been subjected to comments about how the male students “would do her”.

On the same day, Ms Walsh said that male students in her class blurted out inappropriate sexual references and sexual language including coarse words referring to parts of a woman’s body and references to sexual acts.

The sexual harassment followed WIT assigning Ms Walsh a combined class of 100 students from three courses and around 85 of the students were male.

Ms Walsh records that on October 10th 2014 she notified WIT that she had been sexually harassed by a large group of male students in her assigned class.

Ms Walsh further told the Labour Court that she had been asked explicitly, coarse sexual questions and, in addition, various disgusting and explicit comments were made about male genitalia.

Ms Walsh stated that arising from the October 24th 2014 incident, she informed the Head of Department of this experience and advised her that the behaviour had the purpose and effect of violating her dignity and creating an intimidating and hostile working environment.

On November 9th 2014, Ms Walsh advised WIT that the disruption in class continued and WIT subsequently split the class.

Ms Walsh claimed that WIT took no adequate steps to ensure that sexual harassment, harassment and bullying did not take place in her workplace.

She also claimed to the Labour Court that WIT took no adequate steps to respond to her complaints and take adequate steps to reverse the effect of sexual harassment and harassment based on gender and to avoid a recurrence.

Ms Walsh stopped teaching the group of students in March 2015. The Waterford native who has lectured since 1999 continues to lecture at the college today.

The Institute of Technology contested the claim and told the Labour Court that it took all practicable steps to avoid the occurrence of sexual harassment or harassment based on gender in the case.

However, the chairman of the Labour Court, Kevin Foley said that the court was satisfied that WIT is liable for the sexual harassment and the harassment suffered by Ms Walsh on grounds of her gender.

Mr Foley stated that while WIT did take steps in response to Ms Walsh's complaint, WIT “cannot be found to have taken such steps as were reasonably practicable to avoid a recurrence of sexual harassment and harassment based on gender”.

Mr Foley stated that the Head of Department, course leaders and the then President of the Student’s Union spoke to the class concerned.

He stated: “No evidence has been put before the court which established that the issue of sexual harassment and harassment based on gender were specifically raised during any of these interactions with the class.”

Mr Foley stated that WIT’s Student Disciplinary Committee was, for reasons unrelated to the case, not functional from a date before October 2014 and the early part of 2015.

He stated that as a result, in effect, there were no mechanisms in place to facilitate a response to a complaint of sexual harassment or harassment based on gender where the identity of the students allegedly responsible for these acts was unknown to the victim.

As part of his order, Mr Foley has ordered WIT to review the operation of its Dignity and Respect policy and in particular the effectiveness of arrangements in place to communicate the policy to students and, as part of those arrangements, to communicate WIT’s intolerance of sexual harassment and harassment based on gender.

The Labour Court has also ordered WIT to review the effectiveness of arrangements in place to respond to complaints made by teaching staff of sexual harassment and harassment by students, including where the identity of individuals involved is not known to the victim.

Commenting on the case today, Ms Walsh said that the sexual harassment by the students "had a serious impact on me”.

Ms Walsh said: "I took the case to ensure that WIT take steps to have proper procedures in place to ensure that no one else go through what I had to go through."

Ms Walsh said that WIT's complaints procedures for harassment and sexual harassment "are outdated and still not fit for purpose”.

Ms Walsh said that the Labour Court ruling has vindicated her decision to take the case.

The academic described the over-riding emotion when the Labour Court made its ruling as "relief".

Ms Walsh stated that she represented herself in the case before the Labour Court "and this has been pending for almost five years”.

She stated that not many people knew that she was taking the case but that she did receive great support from close colleagues on the staff at WIT.

WIT branch secretary of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), Dr Kathleen Moore Walsh said today: "The WIT branch of the TUI abhors harassment and sexual harassment in our work place and welcomes the Labour Court decision requiring WIT to review the effectiveness of its policies and procedures for dealing with it.”

In a statement on Thursday, WIT stated that it "is committed to providing a safe working environment to all employees and takes this matter very seriously".

It went on to state: "At this juncture we are taking the time to reflect on the decision of the Labour Court and continue to work with staff and their representatives in the monitoring and review of our policies and procedures to ensure that such an environment is free of all forms of bullying, harassment and discrimination."

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