The Equality Authority has awarded an employee of National University of Ireland, Galway (“NUIG”) €81,000 for discrimination on the grounds of gender and disability.  The employee commenced working in the Industrial Engineering Department on a temporary teaching appointment in 1994. She was engaged on a series of rolling contracts for many years. Her position had never been advertised over this period. As a comparison, she highlighted a male colleague who had been appointed to the position of junior lecturer following the advertising of his position.

In 2001 the employee went on maternity leave but was asked by her employer to carry out certain work during that period of leave. The employee completed some tasks but refused to do others and alleged that, as a result, the Head of Department made comments to her in relation to the renewal of her contract and the time she was taking off. She felt this amounted to a “threat” not to renew her contract.

The claimant went on maternity leave again in early 2003 and was again asked to complete work during her leave. After having her second baby, she broke her leg due to a pregnancy-related condition.

After this period of leave, the claimant was employed on another fixed-term contract which stated that she was a “lecturer” which allowed her to become a member of the faculty and to vote on college issues. This also enhanced her eligibility to carry out research and apply for funding.

NUIG notified her that she was entitled to a permanent contract in 2004. However, it was not until 2005 (and after a series of requests from the employee) that her employer informed her that she was in fact being given a contract for a non-academic role and that the title of “lecturer” was being dropped.

The employee felt this was a demotion from the role of lecturer and that her conditions were being downgraded. At that time, no-one else was issued with such a contract and she alleged that she signed the contract under duress.

The employee raised her grievances with her employer and, following an alleged lack of response and delay from NUIG, she then lodged a claim with the Equality Tribunal.

The Tribunal viewed the series of incidents complained of by the employee as a “continuum of discrimination” and accepted that the claimant had established that she was treated less favourably because of her pregnancy and maternity leave.

The Tribunal also accepted that the claimant was discriminated against due to her disability (her broken leg) following her second pregnancy and this disability had a “significant impact” on the dropping of the title of lecturer and the diminishment of her professional status.

This case serves as a reminder to employers of their obligations in relation to equality legislation and the requirement not to discriminate against employees on the basis of any of the nine grounds under which discrimination is prohibited such as gender (which covers pregnancy and maternity leave related matters) and disability

Nuala Clayton