Saturday 20 January 2018

UCD lecturer loses High Court action on gender discrimination

A UCD school of law and business lecturer has lost her High Court action alleging the failure to promote her to the rank of professor amounted to gender discrimination.

Dr Eleanor O'Higgins had challenged the Labour Court's dismissal of her complaint of gender bias in the decision of a UCD promotions committee rejecting her 2007 application for promotion in 2007. She asked the High Court to quash that dismissal and direct the Labour Court to rehear the matter.

 

The Labour Court had found Dr O'Higgins had made out a primae facie (on the face of it) case from which gender discrimination might be inferred on three grounds.

 

It found there was independent evidence she met the criteria for promotion and expressed "considerable disquiet" about the gender composition of the selection committee - 12 men and one woman - which rejected her application.

 

It was also concerned there were no minutes or notes of the content of the deliberations of the committee in reaching its decision.

 

Having found a prima facie case, the Labour Court then carried out an inquiry to establish if UCD could rebut the inference of gender discrimination and concluded it had.

 

It accepted as truthful evidence from the Committee her application was rejected because the committee concluded she did not meet the required standard for promotion.

 

In her challenge, Dr O'Higgins argued the Labour Court had failed to properly consider all the relevant material and failed to carry out any comparative analysis between the different candidates for promotion.

 

She claimed it failed to give sufficient weight to the gender composition of  the selection committee. She further alleged the members deciding her application had insufficient expertise in the relevant area of business ethics to properly analyse her application.

 

UCD rejected the claims and insisted the rejection of her application was not tainted by gender bias.

 

In his judgment yesterday, Mr Justice John Cooke said it was important to note the various applicants for promotion to professor were not competing with one another and there was no limit on the number of promotions that might be granted.

 

The issue the Labour Court had to decide was not whether or not Dr O'Higgins merited promotion in accordance with the designated criteria, he said.  The Labour Court was "solely" concerned to satisfy itself the basis for deciding to reject her application was not tainted by gender bias.

 

It was clear Dr O'Higgins strongly disagreed with the consensus apparently reached by the selection committee that the level and quality of her academic accomplishments and standard did not meet the criteria for promotion to professor, he said.

 

Even if it could be said Dr O'Higgins' various criticism of the competence of individual committee members or that procedures for establishing the committee had some merit or justification, it did not follow the committee as constituted was either in fact or in law incapable of determining the promotion applications without gender bias, he said.

 

No error of law and no point of law had been made out which would entitle Dr O'Higgins to orders quashing the Labour Court decision, he ruled.

 

The court had heard, in the 2007 round of promotions, there were 19 candidates, of whom 15 were men and four were women. Of the 15 men, six were promoted while two of the four women were promoted. Three men were promoted to professor within the UCD school of law and business.

 

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