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University lecturer who claimed she was denied full time role over marital status awarded €9.5k

While it was ruled she was “victimised”, the woman wasn’t discriminated against, the WRC said.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/George Rudy

A UNIVERSITY LECTURER who was found to be “victimised” over a failure to secure a new teaching post has been awarded €9,500 in compensation at the Workplace Relations Commission.

However, it was ruled that the woman was not discriminated against by her employer amid claims that she was denied a permanent full-time position because she was newly married and that the interview process for the positions was unfair.

The nursing academic said she was told by the head of the school at the university that she may not have a career in academia, in a phone call telling her she’d been unsuccessful for the position.

The WRC adjudicator noted that the lecturer had a strong belief that “being married and having a potential pregnancy would be viewed negatively by the school”, but found no witness to corroborate this. 

With conflicting accounts given of the interview process, and the subsequent phone call, the adjudicator said they didn’t find the process had been “tainted by discrimination on the grounds of civil status”. 

‘Unfortunately, it was bad news’

The woman had worked at the university since 2008, and accepted a two-year contract involving an academic review in December 2014. She had applied for a lecturer post in 2013, but was told that more teaching experience and funding were needed.

She was keen to compete for a number of posts with five-year tenure contracts, two of which were full-time, when they went live in August 2015.

Having sought a preliminary chat with the head of the school – Ms B – ahead of the interviews, she submitted that this meeting focused “on personal matters which caused her concern”. This included how long she’d been married, how she was finding married life and what age she was.

They also discussed the challenge to the workforce that having seven staff members out on maternity leave represented.

She said she received support from colleagues ahead of the interview, had built up a strong academic portfolio and, after eight years of fixed term contracts, she wanted a more stable income.

Her interview was held on 27 November. She said she was asked at interview if she’d consider a 12-month part-time position, but she asserted that she wanted a full-time role.

It was noted: “Shortly after 6pm that evening, she received a phone call from Ms B informing her that she was unsuccessful for all three posts and she stated that she was not sure whether the complainant had a future academic career.”

She submitted that she was shocked at this conversation. 

In late December, she sought feedback on her interview from HR and, later that day, offered the part-time position. She wanted to appeal the result of her interview but said there were no HR processes in places to do so. 

She met Ms B in late January who told her she couldn’t provide the feedback because an appeal had been lodged. It was the lecturer’s assertion that the scores she achieved in her interview were altered slightly so that another candidate was offered the job instead, having had her scores released to her following a Freedom of Information request.

She decided not to accept the part-time offer and accepted an offer from another third-level college in February 2016. The university then pursued her, she said, for an alleged overpayment of annual leave and payment of salary.

‘Social relationship’

It was Ms B’s assertion that she did indeed ask the complainant how married life was in the August meeting, because they knew each other socially and the woman had once attended a birthday in her home.

Ms B said that the lecturer said it needed to be taken into account that she had worked with the university for eight years, to which she said she replied it was an open competition.

She said that the interviewees were all asked the same question, and didn’t accept that the woman was pressed to accept a part-time role. She recalled calling the woman later that day that she had deemed appointable not successful for any of the roles as her score was 4th best with only three positions available.

As the offer of the part-time position on offer wasn’t accepted by another candidate, this woman was then offered it in December. 

“She denied that the complainants married status had any bearing on the outcome of the interview and submitted that 85%-90% of the profession were female and maternity leave was managed in accordance with workforce plans, but had been hampered by the embargo on back filling posts,” it was noted. 

Ms B denied that she used the words “bad news” during the post interview phone call. She offered feedback based on her own observations. This feedback is offered to internal candidates.

Decision

The WRC adjudicator said that he found Ms B to be “a very cogent witness”, and was struck by her evidence about the lecturer having an “air of entitlement” in their August 2015 meeting before the job interview. 

All the candidates were asked the same questions in the interview, and that it was “regrettable” that feedback was not offered in the immediate aftermath of the competition. 

“Taking everything into consideration, I did identify a laxness in terms of correlation and sharing of key documents, markings and on the management of untimely feedback which certainly points to an unfair approach but not a discriminatory one,” he said. “I would urge the respondent to reflect on this aspect of my findings.

I have not found that the process was tainted by discrimination on the grounds of civil status. I did not find an imbalance in the numbers of married staff: single staff at the school. I did not establish that the complainant was treated less favourably due to her civil status. I found she was a recipient of a less than best practice recruitment process.

However, the adverse treatment that the lecturer was subjected to amounted to victimisation, the ruling said. 

As well as granting €9,500 in compensation for the distress caused by victimisation, the university was ordered to secure an immediate harmonisation and inclusion of an easily identifiable pathway for any complaint of discrimination. 

About the author:

Sean Murray

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