Dublin City University has been ordered by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) to pay €27,500 for victimising a former employee after she complained of sexual harassment.
Rene O’Reilly started working as Foundation Programme Coordinator at DCU’s International Office in 2017 but was dismissed in October 2018 after being told that she had not passed her probationary period.
On the 31st of May of this year WRC adjudicator Marian Duffy ordered the university to compensate O’Reilly for her dismissal and the stress it caused her, in line with the Equality Employment Act.
Duffy stated that O’Reilly told the hearing that her “reputation was ruined because of the dismissal and she was out of work for a year and lost her home.”
“She retrained and got another job, but she no longer has job security,” she added.
O’Reilly’s claim for victimisation was the only workplace breach she succeeded on in her claim against DCU, with nine other claims – including ones on the grounds of sexual harassment, harassment, conditions of employment and a payment of wages breach- being dismissed by Duffy.
Duffy found that O’Reilly established a prima facie case of sexual harassment in relation to her conditions of her employment, arguing that it could be assumed to be correct unless proven otherwise.
However Duffy found that DCU was able to rebut the prima facie case raised due to their effective policies and procedures in place to prevent harassment in the workplace and as a result could avail of the statutory defence under the Employment Equality Act.
A spokesperson from DCU issued the following statement to the College View:
“We have no further comment to make but DCU notes that nine separate claims made by Ms O’Reilly to the WRC were dismissed including ones on the grounds of sexual harassment, harassment, conditions of employment and a payment of wages breach. The WRC adjudicator also found that DCU has effective policies and procedures in place to prevent harassment in the workplace.”
O’Reilly signed a three-year contract with DCU in November of 2017, with a stipulation that she could be terminated in the first year if she was not deemed suitable for the position.
Duffy also stated that the fact that O’Reilly was notified that she had not passed her probation two days after making a sexual harassment complaint against her male boss was of significance in the case.
O’Reilly’s complaint stemmed from a comment made by her boss after a meeting in September of 2018, in which he allegedly made a sexual comment about an abstract painting hanging on the wall.
DCU argued that the alleged lewd comment was not an act of sexual harassment and that it was not directed at O’Reilly.
However Duffy stated that it is clear that the comment was of a sexual nature and was directed at O’Reilly, although the exact nature of this comment was not disclosed.
DCU argued that O’Reilly was not victimised due to her complaint but that she failed to pass her probation due to performance issues.
Her employment was officially terminated on the 5th of November 2018, 13 days after being told that she had not passed her probation.
DCU Student Union’s Vice President for Welfare and Equality, Dean O’Reilly, spoke to the College View about the recent ruling by the WRC.
“DCUSU are committed to continued collaboration with the University to ensure each member of DCU’s Community is safe from harassment and gender-based violence.
This is an ongoing conversation internally between DCU & DCUSU and externally through our collaboration with the National Advisory Committee of the National Women’s Council,” he stated.
The entirety of the ruling can be viewed here: https://www.workplacerelations.ie/en/cases/2021/may/adj-00020428.html
Jamie Mc Carron
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