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Lecturer wins €80,000 in discrimination case against NUI Galway

The Equality Tribunal found that the engineering lecturer had been discriminated against on the grounds of gender and disability.

Image: Lecture hall via Shutterstock

NUI GALWAY HAS been ordered to pay €81,000 to a lecturer after she took a case against the university to the Equality Tribunal.

The lecturer claimed that she was discriminated against by the university on the grounds of gender, family status and disability.

The Equality Tribunal found she had been discriminated against on the grounds of gender and disability but dismissed the family status complaint.

The lecturer has been working at NUIG since 1994 on a series of rolling contracts, initially as a temporary teaching assistant in the industrial engineering department.

The complaints included seeing male colleagues being treated more favourably, being asked to carry out work while she was on maternity leave, and being turned down for research funding because she was not a permanent employee.

She also argued that she was effectively demoted, and had been treated badly after returning from sick leave for a pregnancy-related illness, which included an operation on a tumour on her spine.

After spending almost a decade as a teaching assistant, she was given a contract as a lecturer at NUI Galway for the academic year 2003-2004. During the year, she found she was entitled to a permanent contract under legislation, so began to write to the university seeking information on her contract. She repeatedly asked for confirmation that she was permanent but was not given a contract.

Instead, in 2005, she was brought into a HR meeting where she was told that the university saw her as being in a non-academic teaching role. She was unhappy with this and said she wanted her contract to reflect the fact that her title was already lecturer.

She was then given a new contract with no title – which, she said, effectively downgraded her from the position of lecturer. She was instead in a role called applied teacher – which no other lecturer in the university had.

The woman was on sick leave for a year from July 2004 to July 2005 but said when she came back, her conditions of employment had changed considerably and she was no longer considered a member of the faculty as she did not hold an academic position, and didn’t have the same conditions as other people working similar jobs to her.

The Equality Tribunal document notes:

She said that the biggest issue for her was the elimination of the requirement to carry out research, the consequence of which she could not qualify for any funding for research.

In 2007 she was offered a new contract with the title of university teacher, which was better than her previous contract but gave her little time to carry out the research she wanted to do. She did not sign the contract, pointing out that she had been denied an opportunity to carry out research or take a sabbatical so that she could pursue a PhD for career enhancement, and requested her title be changed back to lecturer.

She wrote to the President of NUIG objecting to the way she was being treated but having received no satisfactory answer she hired a solicitor.

An internal investigation panel was set up to investigate the grievances that the solicitor put forward. In this, she noted that the university described her as a lecturer on their website and to students, and that she had been named lecturer of the year in 2010.

Her lawyer argued that she had been demoted to the same non-academic position she had held 11 years earlier when she first began working at NUI Galway, and that she was forced into signing the new contract under a threat of dismissal.

Her lawyer also argued that her pregnancy and maternity-related sick leave had stopped her from getting promotion in the male-dominated Engineering department. He also said it was discrimination on gender grounds that the post in the area in which she had expertise was never advertised.

NUI Galway argued that she had not been discriminated against, with one professor saying he had always been very encouraging of her as she was the first woman to teach in the industrial engineering department.

However, the Equality Tribunal found that she was discriminated against on the gender and disability grounds.

They ordered she should be restored the title of lecturer and give a contact putting her in the position she would have held if the discrimination had not happened.

The officer said:

The complainant excelled in her role evidenced by the fact that she won Lecturer of the year award and her students won a project award which she supervised.
I have found that she was asked to work during pregnancy related sick leave and also during her maternity leave, her post was not advertised despite promises, a new contract which downgraded her status as a Lecturer was negotiated while she under a disability suffering from a medical condition relating to her pregnancy and awaiting an operation on her spine for a tumour.Furthermore she suffered discriminatory treatment on her return to work in relation to her conditions of employment and there was no clarity about her role all resulting in her status being diminished within the Department.

The maximum possible award was two years’ pay and the officer awarded her one year’s salary of €81,000.

Read: Crucifix erected in Kerry Council raises questions about equality law > 

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