Senior UCD lecturer brings gender discrimination dispute to High Court

 
 

— Dr. O’Higgins claims to have been denied promotion because of her gender
— Labour Court had previously ruled there was no gender discrimination

Dr. Eleanor O’Higgins, a senior lecturer in the UCD School of Law and Business, has alleged that it was her gender, and not the quality of her application, that is the reason behind the university promotions committee not promoting her to professor.

Recommendations were passed to UCAATP, the promotions committee that is chaired by the President of UCD, in 2007 by a committee from the UCD School of Law and Business and also an external assessor that suggested offering Dr. O’Higgins a promotion.

She was among 19 candidates, of which 15 were men and four women. Two of the female candidates, and six male, were promoted to professor; three of the men who achieved promotion were given the role of professor within the UCD School of Law and Business. Both of the women promoted were appointed professors in the Arts faculty.

The claim of gender bias is based on the comparative treatment of the six male applicants, who were all promoted within that year. Dr. O’Higgins’ claim had previously been dismissed by the Equality Tribunal, as they said there was not enough evidence to ground her complaint.

The Labour Court heard her case in November 2012, but it was determined that there was no gender discrimination in the decision process of UCAATP. Dr. O’Higgins has appealed this decision to the High Court.

The case Dr. O’Higgins has brought before the High Court is concerned with the manner in which the Labour Court properly assessed the material before it in relation to her promotion. Mr. Justice John Cooke heard evidence that the Labour Court raised concerns over aspects of the UCD appointments process and her lawyer Mark Connaughton SC, purported that the Labour Court’s account of the evidence presented was “formulaic.”

Dr. O’Higgins also asserts that it is significant that the two women promoted that year were to professorships in the Arts faculty and that the committee that considered the applications included a female professor from this same faculty.

During the High Court proceedings last week, Cliona Kimber, BL for UCD, said that Dr. O’Higgins was “somewhat subjective in her view of her own superiority and the inferiority of others.” Kimber also stated that a professor at UCD is recognised as a “gold standard” and that awarding promotions factors in a lot of subjective analysis.

Dr. O’Higgins initially applied for professorship in 2006 and was unsuccessful due to not having held an Associate Professorship for five years and also not receiving an exemption to this requirement.

This necessity was removed in 2007, and she told the Court that she regarded her achievements under all of the criteria used to assess candidates for promotion to be at least equal, and in some cases superior, to those of the male candidates who were subsequently promoted.

As of yet, there has been no resolution to the proceedings, which are ongoing.

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