My story began on the 19thof December 2015. It ended on the 7th November 2018 when the General Secretary of IFUT, Joan Donegan, phoned me to say the Adjudicator had ruled in my favour. Maynooth University had discriminated against me under the Employment Equality Acts. It was a day tinged with sadness – this was also my University – a University I am proud of, where I have studied and worked for over 20 years.
I have been asked, on many occasions, if I ever regretted the decision to take an equality case to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). My answer is always the same – not for one second. Although, as an academic I had spent years writing and publishing about injustice and inequality, about direct and indirect discrimination – against Travellers, against young women in the new Irish State, against students from disadvantaged backgrounds – it is impossible to fully know what discrimination feels like until you become a victim of it.
The process was long and tough – there is no point in saying otherwise. Equality hearings can be daunting, particularly when the small meeting room in the WRC is crowded with the University’s [two] barristers; a corporate solicitor and several members of the University’s Executive. The process becomes all consuming, unnerving – even hostile at times. On the first day of the hearing, I could not hold a cup of much needed water because my hand shook so much. I was examined and cross-examined. I had many a sleepless night, at times I felt anxious and upset but I always felt in control and fully supported.
The feeling of being in control was due in no small part to the unwavering support I received from IFUT Head Office, and in particular from Joan Donegan – from the first day I walked into her office in February, 2016. Joan accompanied me to ‘talks’ with the University, worked closely with me, was always at the end of a phone, and gave up many a weekend to work on my submission. I experienced the very best in human nature, in my colleagues and their unfailing integrity. In particular, I am indebted to two colleagues who appeared as witnesses on my behalf. They sacrificed much, supported and listened, and gave up so much of their time.
There was never a question of engaging legal practitioners. Indeed, I believe I may not have succeeded if we did. Legal practitioners bring an impersonal nature to the process which can at times further alienate the individual. Notwithstanding that they may do a very good job, legal practitioners cannot possibly be as familiar with your story, your circumstances. They are not invested in improving issues of equality or social justice within the University. They come in, do a job and leave. IFUT was there for me before, during, and after the case was won.
In addition, I did not have the additional burden and worry about legal costs thus freeing me to focus on the case. Awards for costs are not made in the WRC.
If we are to make the process of appointments and promotions fairer for all, we must be prepared to confront injustice and hold the decision makers to account. Letting things go and accepting decisions that are discriminatory does no service for those who follow. As one colleague wrote: “With two daughters, I’m ever more conscious now that women stand up for themselves and not accept injustice or unfairness.”