We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Parliament Square of Trinity College Dublin. Alamy Stock Photo

Sacking of TCD worker from €120k job after sexual assault case ‘not unfair’, says WRC

While the WRC adjudicator said there were flaws in the process that TCD utilised, he was ‘satisfied these flaws did not result in any actual unfairness to the complainant’.

A STATE WORKPLACE watchdog has found that the dismissal by Trinity College Dublin (TCD) of a senior college manager after he pleaded guilty to a sexual assault was not unfair.

In a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) ruling, Adjudicator, David James Murphy has dismissed TCD Facilities Manager, Brendan Leahy’s unfair dismissal action.

In his ruling, Murphy concluded that in the circumstances, TCD had discretion as to whether to dismiss Leahy in November 2021.

Murphy stated that while there were flaws in the process that TCD utilised to arrive at that decision, he was “satisfied that these flaws did not result in any actual unfairness to the complainant”.

Dismissing Leahy’s unfair dismissal claim, Murphy stated that TCD “has established substantive grounds for the dismissal”.

Leahy had been on a salary in excess of €120,000 for the senior role he had at TCD.

Leahy was dismissed by TCD in November 2021 after a disciplinary process which followed a college appointed barrister completing a report concerning two disciplinary matters relating to Leahy.

The first concerned Leahy pleaded guilty on 24 March, 2021 at Dublin District Court to sexually assaulting a woman at Kehoe’s Pub on South Anne Street, Dublin 2 in June 2018.

Leahy was sentenced to three months in prison with the sentence suspended and fined €1,000.

Leahy informed TCD of the conviction and TCD placed Leahy on paid suspension pending investigation.

Leahy later appealed the court conviction to Dublin Circuit Criminal Court and was given the benefit of the Probation Act in July 2021.

One week after the district court hearing, a former female employee of TCD sent an email to the College Provost alleging that Leahy had sexually harassed her at a Christmas party, three years previously.

The WRC was told that the allegation was that Leahy had sat across the room from her and mimed an oral sex gesture while staring at her.

In his findings after three days of evidence, Murphy stated that TCD was entitled to consider Leahy’s failure to give them any advance warning of the court case against him in the district court as misconduct.

Murphy stated the TCD Academic Secretary, Patricia Callaghan was entitled to conclude that Leahy had sexually harassed the woman at the Christmas party and specifically that he mimed an oral sex act at her from across the room at a work Christmas party in December 2017.

Murphy said that it is unclear as to whether Callaghan factored the misconduct itself into her decision to dismiss. 

Murphy stated however that a major aspect of her decision to dismiss was Leahy’s failure to take ownership and show remorse for his actions towards both the woman at the Christmas Party and the woman involved in the incident in Kehoe’s pub in June 2018.

Murphy stated that having reviewed the minutes of the disciplinary meeting there is an obvious basis for this decision to dismiss.

Murphy said that Leahy never admitted to either incident or provided context and was limited in his expressions of remorse.

The WRC Adjudicator also determined that it was a mistake by Leahy not to provide detail around the nature of the sexual assault in Kehoe’s pub.

Murphy said that Leahy “was a senior management figure in a high profile and publicly funded organisation which educates thousands of young adults. He was entirely aware of that context, and yet he still chose not to engage”.

Murphy said that TCD was entitled to consider the sequence of events concerning the court process for the sexual assault “constituted serious misconduct” on the part of Mr Leahy.

As the Circuit Court applied the Probation Act on appeal, Murphy stated for TCD to ignore Leahy’s guilty plea and his conviction at the District Court, “I believe the Probation Act would need to expressly provide the offender with additional employment related protections.  It does not”.

In his findings, Murphy said that throughout the disciplinary process, Leahy took the view that his conviction in the District Court had been overturned by the Circuit Court.

Leahy argued that at that point the investigation should have ceased as the charge and conviction no longer existed.

Leahy was of the view that the matter could not have formed the basis of any lawful decision to dismiss him while TCD in turn argued that the charge of sexual assault remained proven and Leahy’s guilty plea stood.

Leahy started working for TCD in 1993 and was promoted a number of times, ultimately to the position of Head of Facilities and Services and had 100-200 personnel reporting into him depending on the time of year.

In April 2020, Leahy was charged with sexual assault which he said came as a shock and surprise.

Leahy said that he took legal advice and this was for him to plead guilty, where he was advised that this would be viewed well by the court and save the person in the case coming back to Ireland and having to give evidence.

Leahy said that he was advised that because of the minor nature of the incident itself and his plea there was a likelihood that the Probation Act would be applied by the District Court.

Leahy said that he had decided against telling his employer about the charge and was shocked that the matter was going to court and was ashamed by the whole affair.

He thought that the matter would likely be dealt with by way of the Probation Act but against the expectations of his solicitors he was convicted of sexual assault.

Leahy called the Director of HR, Antionette Quinn, while walking home from the courthouse to notify TCD of the district court conviction and was placed on suspension.

Represented at the WRC by Aaron Shearer BL instructed by Tom Roley Solicitor, Leahy believes his dismissal was preordained and since his dismissal he has found it extremely difficult to obtain work.

He occupied a relatively niche role at a senior level as there are few “estates” large enough to necessitate a role like his.

Leahy has continued to look for work and is training as a commercial vehicle driver and expects to earn somewhere between €35,000 and €40,000 when he starts this job.

TCD’s Director of HR, Antoinette Quinn told the hearing that all sexual assaults are serious and said that she did not know where a line could be drawn to say a sexual assault was not serious.