Labour Court award in University promotions case for failure to address alleged conflict of interest

Author: Siobhán Lafferty, Barry Walsh

April 2, 2019

In a recent decision[1] on appeal from the WRC, the Labour Court increased a recommended award from €8,000 to €10,000 for an unsuccessful internal university promotion candidate. 

The claim was under the Industrial Relations (IR) Acts, which is a more generalised claim. No specific equality issue was raised by the Complainant or presumably the matter would have been brought under the Employment Equality Acts. Claims under the IR Acts are part of a voluntary process and are not normally legally binding unless the parties agree.

Background – Workplace Relations Commission

The original case before the WRC related to a competition at an Irish university to fill 10 professorial posts. The Complainant, a long-serving senior lecturer at the University, was not shortlisted.  The Complainant was awarded €8,000 by the WRC, which held that the competition was not sufficiently transparent.  The WRC had also made various recommendations such as:

  • providing an internal appeals mechanism;
  • an apology to the Complainant for the absence of records;
  • establishment a remedial system for the retention of records; and
  • consider whether the University should use the Public Service Appointments process.

Both parties appealed to the Labour Court.

Labour Court Hearing

The Complainant argued that:

  • the Head of School had a conflict of interest in the interview process which was not dealt with;
  • she had experience to match those shortlisted;
  • there were ‘glaring irregularities’ in the process used to establish the selection committee; and
  • the WRC award (€8,000) did not reflect the impact on her career and reputation.

A fresh external review or a higher of compensation was requested.

The University asserted that:

  • the Labour Court cannot make a qualitative assessment of candidates’ achievements; and
  • there was an Appeals Board for internal competitions.

Decision

The Court was concerned by the fact that a declared alleged conflict of interest was not dealt with adequately.  While it could not judge whether there actually was a conflict, the fact that it was not dealt with appropriately by the University meant that the process was flawed as a result. It agreed with the University that an external review was not necessary but it increased the compensation award to €10,000 due to the alleged conflict of interest issue.

The case highlights the need for transparency in all recruitment processes and the requirement to deal with any perceived or real conflicts of interest head on.

[1] LCR21904, February 2019

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