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harassment Woman at the centre of DCU victimisation case believes is it 'not safe' to make claims against employers

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) ordered DCU to pay Rene O’Reilly €27,500 for victimising her after she made a complaint of sexual harassment.

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Rene O'Reilly

Rene O'Reilly

Rene O'Reilly

A woman victimised by Dublin City University believes it is not safe for workers to make complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Last week, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) ordered DCU to pay Rene O’Reilly €27,500 for victimising her after she made a complaint of sexual harassment.

WRC adjudicator Marian Duffy found that Ms O’Reilly, who worked as foundation programme co-ordinator at DCU’s International Office, had made a prima facie case of sexual harassment but that DCU was able to rebut it as it had a sexual harassment policy in place.

In her findings, Ms Duffy said the eagerness with which Ms O’Reilly was notified that “she had not passed her probation two days after she made a complaint about sexual harassment is significant”.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Ms O’Reilly said she is “really torn” on what to say to workers who experience sexual harassment.

“I don’t think it is safe to report sexual harassment,” she said. “The complaints just get ended. All of a sudden the person who makes the complaint is the problem and that is what happened to me and I have no reason to believe that it would be different anywhere else.”

Ms O’Reilly represented herself in the case against what she described as “a wall of personnel” from solicitors and DCU. “It was really intimidating.”

From Finglas, in Dublin, Ms O’Reilly described the entire history of the case as “hellish” and “there have been sleepless nights,” she said.

“It has been so stressful, the whole thing was a toxic experience. It destroyed my reputation. I don’t work in academia any more. I had no reference. Where would I go from there? Ireland is a small country.”

Ms O’Reilly retrained to be a massage therapist and now lives in Scotland where she also works as a climate change project officer.

She said: “I now earn a quarter of the money I was earning. I was 60 last September and there is no chance of me getting another proper quality job – that has robbed me of that.

“Taking the case to the WRC is probably the thing that recovered me because at least it was something positive to do. It was a positive response to a negative situation.”

It arose from a brief conversation she had with her line manager concerning a new abstract painting that hung in a boardroom at the All Hallows part of the DCU campus in September 2018.

In her report, Ms Duffy opted not to reveal the term allegedly used by Ms O’Reilly’s male colleague.

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Ms O’Reilly said: “I just left the room. I was just so mortified and disgusted. I just had to get away and I didn’t go back to my desk for an hour.”

DCU accepted that the comment about the abstract painting was made.

But it argued that it was not an act of sexual harassment and the alleged comment was not directed at Ms O’Reilly.

DCU said Ms O’Reilly was not victimised or dismissed but she failed to pass her probation due to performance issues.

In the dismissal letter dated November 1, 2018, Professor Daire Keogh, who was then deputy president of DCU but has been university president since last July, stated “having read the relevant files, it is apparent that Ms Rene O’Reilly has not satisfied the university’s expectations in her probationary period”.

In her findings, Ms Duffy said it is clear the comment was of a sexual nature and was directed at Ms O’Reilly who commenced a three-year contract with DCU in November 2017.

Ms Duffy said the comment was gender specific, inappropriate and therefore fell within the definition of sexual harassment and further said she was satisfied that from Ms O’Reilly’s evidence the comment had violated her dignity.

Ms O’Reilly’s claim for victimisation was the only workplace breach she succeeded on in her claim against DCU.

Ms Duffy dismissed nine separate other claims Ms O’Reilly had made including ones on the grounds of harassment, sexual harassment, conditions of employment and a payment of wages breach.

Ms O’Reilly said she is “confused” by the finding concerning her claim for sexual harassment and is considering lodging an appeal to the Labour Court.

She said: “I really want to try to make things better for people so that they don’t have to go through these horrible experiences.”

A spokesman for DCU said: “Dublin City University (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.”

The spokesman declined to say if DCU would be appealing the ‘victimisation’ ruling to the Labour Court.

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