Irish Universities pay out €3.3 million in legal fees

Irish universities paid over 3 million in legal fees because of bullying amongst staff

Ireland’s Universities paid out more than €3.3 million in legal fees involving staff members between 2010 and 2015, according to records released under the Freedom of Information Act.

In a five-year span, legal fees have tripled from what they were in 2010. The cases being dealt with involve allegations by staff of harassment, bullying and discrimination, often on gender grounds.

According to a survey of more than 1,100 lecturers conducted by the Teachers’ Union of Ireland—a union representing lecturers at institutes of technology—concluded that 30 per cent of respondents said they are always, often or sometimes bullied at work, while 69 per cent said there is always, often or sometimes friction between associates at work.

 Joan Donegan, the Deputy General Secretary of the Irish Federation of University Teachers said the organisation deals with new allegations every month.

Donegan told the Irish Times she believes in-house training for Human Resources workers and support staff is crucial as well as cost-effective, as colleges often hire external investigators to deal with discrimination and bullying complaints.

“Investment in a qualified external mediator, although expensive, is worthwhile if staff are not trained,” said Donegan, “Spending money on consultants to conduct investigations is very expensive, and the outcome from such processes is rarely helpful in healing the hurt between the parties.”

Aidan Kenny of the TUI believes a uniform standard across all colleges to address these issues would help mediation before the case is sent for investigation, noting the fact that in some cases outside mediators determine the scope of investigations and can keep them going for years without resolution.

Complaint patterns over the past five years differ dramatically from university to university.

The University of Limerick was at the top with 11 complaints over the past five years, nine being bullying complaints, one of sexual harassment and one of racial and religious discrimination.

NUI Galway has pledged to introduce gender quotas after the successful case of former lecturer Micheline Sheehy- Skeffington over allegations that she was unfairly passed over for promotion due to her gender. The university is still engaged in another legal battle with five female lecturers who say they were unfairly passed over for promotion.

University College Cork has recorded four complaints since 2011, but has paid out €1.5 million, by far the most in comparison to others.

TCD has recorded complaints from 10 staff members, Maynooth University has recorded five and UCD nine.

Kyle Ewald

Image Credit: Photocall Ireland

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