Workplace Relations Commission: Former Trinity lecturer awarded €6,144 in unfair dismissal claim
A former lecturer at Trinity College Dublin who was made redundant at the beginning of the 2018/2019 academic year has been awarded €6,144 after it was found that he was unfairly dismissed.
Finding that the lecturer had made an almost irresistible connection between the public outcry he created by comments he made on television the previous year, and the decision to dismiss him, Adjudication Officer Penelope McGrath said the procedures adopted by TCD were inadequate and unfair.
Since 2010, Dr Ali Selim was engaged on an annual (and initially ad hoc) basis to teach language and culture at Trinity College Dublin. By the academic year 2017/18, Dr Selim did approximately 9 hours of lecturing per week, teaching modules to 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students – he would also give additional evening classes depending on demand for this.
Dr Selim was never provided with a Contract of Employment setting out his terms and conditions, despite successfully arguing in 2017 that he was entitled to have a Contract of Indefinite Duration.
In February 2018, Dr Selim “got caught up in a wave of negative publicity arising out of some views he had expressed on a well-known current affairs show”. It was noted that Dr Selim asserted through the media that his views had been misinterpreted – but “the damage had already been done” and there was significant backlash on campus, with students protesting and boycotting his classes.
In response to the refusal by a portion of his students to continue to attend his lectures, TCD arranged for a parallel lecturer to run the same course in tandem with Dr Selim. Ms McGrath said that she fully accepted that the majority of Dr Selim’s existing students did not avail of this alternative, and Dr Selim suggested that those who did leave his classes may not have known him as well as his 3rd and 4th year students.
At the start of the following academic year, in September 2018, Dr Selim “was notified, without preamble or forewarning … that his services were no longer required”. Two reasons were given: that the new Assistant professor would be taking over some of the classes he had been doing; and that no students opted for the extra modules on offer. Dr Selim was not given any further information.
In addition, his evening classes were terminated pending review, and at the date of the WRC hearing in February 2019, Ms McGrath noted her surprise that this review had still not been completed.
Connection between outcry and dismissal
Dr Selim’s primary complaint was that he was unfairly dismissed, submitting that he was never provided with a cogent reason for letting him go and asserting that TCD “lacked the fortitude to retain him as a lecturer when his retention might have been unpopular with the student body arising out of cultural differences”.
TCD’s case was that Dr Selim’s core subjects were not being availed of by the student body, that it was unknown to TCD if this was because of a general disinterest or an active movement to boycott his classes, but that either way, TCD could not retain Dr Selim to give classes that no-one would attend. TCD denied any nexus between the public outcry and his dismissal.
The adjudication officer, Ms McGrath said that Dr Selim “made an almost irresistible connection between the public outcry that he admits he himself created, and the subsequent move (as he perceives it) to drop his association with TCD”. Ms McGrath said she was satisfied that TCD’s actions were inadequate – it could not have been reasonable for them to present Dr Selim with a termination of his employment without any notice or discussion in September 2018, there was no transparency, and Dr Selim had “no idea what courses were offered to the student body which were on his behalf” or “how they were advertised or made known to the student body”.
Additionally, Dr Selim was at no time given any evidence or even feedback on what interest there might have been in relation to his courses, there was no discussion of continuing with cut back hours or on an ad hoc basis, and he was made redundant in advance of the completion of the review process being carried out regarding the evening classes.
Ms McGrath also noted that Dr Selim was notified of his timetable for the 2018/19 academic year as early as July 2018, and she was not offered an explanation as to what happened between then and September 2018 – raising the question of why it took until the end of Sept 2018 to start the process of notifying Dr Selim that his services were no longer required.
It was clear that Dr Selim “was not advised of the drop off in numbers and was most certainly not given the opportunity to suggest alternative programmes”, nor asked for proposals which might have allowed Dr Selim to continue with “his cherished association” with TCD where he had completed his Masters and PhD.
Whilst there may ultimately have been a legitimate redundancy, the procedures were inadequate and unfair.
Adjudication Officer McGrath held that Dr Selim’s complaint under section 11 of the Minimum Notice & Terms of Employment Act 1973 was well-founded, that he was entitled to be paid his Minimum Notice in lieu, and awarded €1,644 (representing four weeks payment at a Gross rate of €411 per week).
Dr Selim’s complaint under section 7 of the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 was also upheld, and Ms McGrath directed that he be paid €500 as he did not receive a statement in writing on his terms of employment as provided for under the Act.
Finally, Ms McGrath upheld Dr Selim’s complaint under section 8 of the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977, finding that the process for the selection of Dr Selim was unfair and resulted in an Unfair Dismissal and awarding €4,000 for loss of earnings – bringing the total award to €6,144.
- by Seosamh Gráinséir for Irish Legal News
© Irish Legal News Ltd 2020