My university advertised several chairs in the school at which I work over 3 years ago. At the time I was going through an internal appeals procedure for a promotion that I did not achieve in 2014. This appeals board ultimately found in my favour and stated: “We consider that you have correctly identified a lack of transparency and objectivity in the process and that you had identified in detail on an evidential basis a longstanding conflict of interest between you and X”.
If I were to apply for a chair in late 2015 it would be with the knowledge that X was at the front and centre of the process to fill these positions. Though I brought this to the attention of the President and chair of the board, nothing was done to address my concerns. It came as a disappointment but no shock when I was not even shortlisted for a chair. Contemporaneously and unknown to me the appeals board, chaired by a high-ranking member of the judiciary, challenged the university with the comments outlined above. A number of weeks later the appeals board sent me this challenge and president’s response with a request for comment. Having received my comments the appeals board unequivocally found in my favour. At this point the some but not all of the chairs had been filled.
I met with the local IFUT branch chair and got things started. I found that that the internal grievance procedure been closed off as an avenue for addressing my concerns. Joan Donegan and Frank Jones decided that an adjudication hearing at the WRC was the best course. IFUT and myself had a perfunctory meeting with the University during which it was clear that it would do nothing to address the problems that affected the competition. This was inevitable since there was a High Court case as well other complaints pending. It took quite a bit of time to get the case together since the University was not forthcoming with information even after the intervention of the information commissioner under the FOI act.
The case finally got a date at the WRC in early 2018. While the WRC is not an intimidating forum having Frank Jones with all his experience in my corner was an invaluable asset. Despite the words of the senior member of the judiciary quoted above the adjudicator concluded that “no wrong had been identified prior to his application, to justify recusal of the Head of School”. However, she was “struck by the dearth of records” which raised some concerns regarding the transparency and objectivity of the process so she awarded me €8,000.
This was not the outcome we had hoped for, so an appeal was lodged to the Labour Court. The University also appealed. The Labour Court process was much more formal than the WRC. The Labour Court did not want to hear from me at all and it was left to Frank Jones to explain the case. Frank, however managed to get them to allow me to speak when a dispute emerged: us stating (and the university denying) that X had admitted the conflict of interest. The court found that “a declared conflict of interest was not dealt with at all within the competition that has given rise to this complaint”. They awarded me €10,000 in full and final settlement.
Having gone through the processes I have learnt that it is very important to get the case for the WRC correct and easily understandable to an adjudicator who is not familiar with the workings of an educational institution. Also, the Labour Court does not have the time for a forensic evaluation of issues. To its credit, it seemed to concentrate on the salient point the dispute: the conflict of interest. It has taken quite a bit of time to prepare the case for IFUT to present and the outcome is to some extent a hollow victory. Was it worth it? Yes, unfair treatment should not lightly be allowed to go unchallenged even if the remedy does not fully reflect the wrong done.