Louise Boyle’s conduct calls into question her fitness to hold office at the Workplace Relations Commission
Note: This report has been delivered to members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality and copied to Oonagh Buckley, Director General of the Workplace Relations Commission and Heather Humphreys TD, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation.
The report is available to download in pdf format.
On Monday 10 November 2014 four students were disbarred for life from membership of all student societies at NUI Galway. They were accused of improperly using €325 to pay for flyers. They were committee members of the Christian Union Society and the Life Society. It is believed that this marked the first time in the history of the university that the sanction of lifetime disbarment had been imposed on a student or students.
During the 18 months prior to the sanction, the four students, Enoch Burke, Isaac Burke, Ammi Burke and Kezia Burke, had submitted multiple complaints to NUI Galway regarding poster ripping, bullying, harassment and abusive behaviour towards Christian students on campus. Today, almost four years later, most of these complaints have not been resolved.
Financial impropriety is rife among student societies at NUI Galway. Evidence recently made available to the public suggests that staff members at NUI Galway have turned a blind eye to the misspending of thousands of euros.
The four students, who have won awards and honours for academic excellence and social engagement, claim that NUI Galway targeted them unjustly because they publicly expressed their religious beliefs on abortion, same-sex marriage and other social issues at the university.
In late 2014, the four students initiated Equality Tribunal proceedings against NUI Galway, claiming that the university had discriminated against them on the ground of their religion contrary to the Equal Status Acts. After a two-year delay, Adjudication Officer Louise Boyle of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) was assigned to hear the complaints. Her investigation began on 28 October 2016. Six joint hearings took place in total. Louise Boyle handed down her decisions on 16 November 2017. She dismissed each of the complaints, stating that the majority of the claims made by the four students were either time-barred or had not been notified correctly to NUI Galway.
In June 2017, six months before Louise Boyle handed down her decisions, the four students wrote both to the WRC and to the then Tánaiste and Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Frances Fitzgerald TD, claiming that there were significant procedural and legal shortcomings in Louise Boyle’s investigation of their complaints. The WRC dismissed these claims and the Minister refused to intervene.
On Monday 15 January 2018, the four students published a short article online outlining their concerns in relation to Louise Boyle. Since that time, Louise Boyle has taken down her public LinkedIn profile (which has 500+ connections) amid increased public interest in the matter.
In this report, authored by Isaac Burke, the four students describe in detail their concerns about WRC Adjudication Officer Louise Boyle. In brief, the students claim that:
(1) Louise Boyle’s conduct during the adjudication hearings was wholly incompatible with fair procedures. For example, she extended an offer to a witness for NUI Galway to “strike [evidence] off the record” and subsequently walked out of a hearing when the four students would not declare that they were “happy” with her to continue hearing the case. She made flippant comments like “Oh, it’s going to be appealed anyway” and “I’m not getting paid for overtime”. Throughout the proceedings, Louise Boyle consistently refused to admit a crucial piece of evidence in favour of the four students. This evidence relates to financial impropriety among student societies at NUI Galway.
(2) Louise Boyle had no lawful basis to investigate their complaints. This relates to a provision in the Workplace Relations Act 2015 stating that a “legacy” complaint may be investigated only by a person who was an Equality Officer prior to 01 October 2015. Louise Boyle’s LinkedIn profile stated that she worked as a Human Resource Manager with PlanNet21 Communications in Dublin from January 2014 until June 2016. Further evidence shows that she began conducting regular hearings for the WRC on 23 August 2016. In the official database of Equality Tribunal decisions and determinations there are no records to back up Louise Boyle’s claim that she “was an Equality Officer prior to 01 October 2015”.
(3) Louise Boyle’s decisions in respect of the complaints are fundamentally flawed. She delayed handing down her decisions for six months after the final hearing. The students eventually contacted RTÉ Liveline on Monday 13 November 2017; Louise Boyle then handed down her decisions on Thursday 16 November 2017. Her decisions avoid completely the substantive element of most of the claims. For example, Louise Boyle held that she had no jurisdiction to investigate the lifetime disbarment of the four students from all student societies at NUI Galway. In coming to her conclusion on this matter, Louise Boyle appealed to no legal authority other than the statute itself. She rejected, without explanation, the substantial body of legal precedent that was presented at the hearings.
1. Conduct of WRC Adjudication Officer Louise Boyle during hearings
1.1 In late 2014, we initiated Equality Tribunal proceedings against NUI Galway. Setting out the events that took place in 2013 and 2014, we claimed that NUI Galway had discriminated against us on the ground of our religion. A joint hearing to deal with our complaints was held on 28 October 2016. At this point, the Equality Tribunal had been subsumed into the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).
1.2 WRC Adjudication Officer Louise Boyle was assigned to hear the complaints. Six hearings took place, on 28 October 2016, 08 December 2016, 03 March 2017, 15 March 2017, 16 March 2017 and 12 May 2017. The hearings took place at the Harbour Hotel, New Dock Road, Galway. Over the course of the hearings, we were left alarmed on many occasions by behaviour of Louise Boyle that we felt was wholly incompatible with fair procedures.
1.3 From the outset, we were concerned by the excessive deference of Louise Boyle towards counsel, solicitors and representatives for NUI Galway. At the initial hearing on 28 October 2016, Louise Boyle did not appear to have our formal submissions in the hearing room, despite the fact that they had been forwarded to the Equality Tribunal 15 months previously. She was referring exclusively to the submissions of NUI Galway, which had been provided 10 days before the initial hearing. It was Louise Boyle’s practice throughout the hearings to address counsel, solicitors and representatives for NUI Galway as “your good selves”. On 07 February 2017, Louise Boyle approved an adjournment request made by Clíona Kimber SC, counsel for NUI Galway. A hearing scheduled for 02 March 2017 was adjourned. No reasons for this adjournment were provided to us, despite repeated requests for the same.
1.4 In her opening remarks at the beginning of the initial hearing, Louise Boyle said that she was “scared by all the boxes” [of formal submissions and evidence]. At another point during the hearings she complained about all the black and white documents, saying that she would prefer if there was more colour printing. She made repeated references to her salary, making comments like “I’m not getting paid for overtime” and “Oh, it’s going to be appealed anyway”. We found this last comment to be particularly disconcerting. We had been waiting for two years to get a hearing date and had looked forward to a fair and impartial investigation, only to be met with a disturbing flippancy on the part of the person entrusted with the delivery of justice.
1.5 During the hearing on 16 March 2017, a witness for NUI Galway inadvertently gave incriminating evidence that our religion had been discussed during a committee meeting. Louise Boyle immediately offered the witness the opportunity to retract this evidence, stating: “Would you like me to strike that off the record?” This incident occurred at approximately 3.40pm.
1.6 To offer to strike any piece of evidence off the record is gross impropriety and an absolute breach of Irish and EU standards of natural justice. Even more concerning to us is that Louise Boyle’s offer to the witness was directed towards incriminating evidence particular to the religion ground under the Equal Status Acts. Such an invitation by the finder of fact, in a case concerning religious discrimination, speaks to the mental processes of the Adjudication Officer in her investigation of the case. This conduct by Louise Boyle is a serious violation of the right to an impartial hearing.
1.7 Subsequent to this, during the hearing on 12 May 2017, Louise Boyle walked out of the hearing room at approximately 11.10am. She stated: “I am not happy as the Equality Officer to continue with the hearing today”. Louise Boyle had been coercing us to declare that we were “happy” with her, as the Equality Officer, to continue to hear the case. Louise Boyle had persistently questioned and coerced us in this regard, not only on the date in question, but also at the hearing on 16 March 2017.
1.8 We remained in the hearing room. Louise Boyle re-entered and left the room on several occasions. Subsequently, at approximately 12.00pm, she re-entered the room, accompanied by NUI Galway’s representatives and their legal team. She then stated: “I am happy to proceed and on that basis, we will proceed with the hearing. Let’s proceed.” In resuming the proceedings, Louise Boyle demonstrated a complete change of mind. However, she provided no reasons or explanation to us for this complete change of mind.
1.9 Throughout the proceedings, Louise Boyle consistently refused to admit a crucial piece of evidence in our favour. This evidence relates to financial impropriety among student societies at NUI Galway. Under cross-examination at the hearing on 12 May 2017, a witness for NUI Galway announced that she would be opening an investigation into this financial impropriety and thanked us for bringing what she described as “very serious issues” to light. During the same hearing at approximately 10:30am, Louise Boyle repeatedly questioned the relevance of this evidence, stating at one point: “I thought we decided this was not going to be looked at.”
1.10 The incidents described above are only several examples of a pattern of conduct by Louise Boyle that we found deeply concerning. Louise Boyle’s failure to exercise diligence, fairness and competence throughout the hearings meant that we struggled immensely to prove our case.
2. Eligibility of WRC Adjudication Officer Louise Boyle to investigate “legacy” complaints
2.1 The functions of the Equality Tribunal were transferred to the WRC on 01 October 2015, the date of establishment of the WRC. The WRC inherited responsibility for 1,298 “legacy” complaints that had previously been submitted to the Equality Tribunal but which had not been dealt with prior to the establishment of the WRC (see page 17 of this document). Our four complaints were submitted to the Equality Tribunal in late 2014 and thus fall into the category of legacy complaints. The WRC has come under some scrutiny in the media regarding acute delays in the processing of legacy complaints.
2.2 The handling of legacy complaints by the WRC is governed by strict rules laid out in the Workplace Relations Act 2015. Subsections 83(2) and 83(3) (for Employment Equality complaints) and 84(2) and 84(3) (for Equal Status complaints) provide that a legacy complaint may be investigated only by “a person who immediately before [01 October 2015] was an Equality Officer” of the Equality Tribunal.
2.3 For the reasons set out below, it is our view that WRC Adjudication Officer Louise Boyle was not an Equality Officer prior to 01 October 2015 and hence had no legal jurisdiction to hear, investigate or issue a decision in respect of our complaints.
2.4 The WRC has never published a list of its Adjudication Officers/Equality Officers. This is a very serious decline in transparency. It was the practice of the former Equality Tribunal to publish a list of current Equality Officers in its annual report to the Minister. For example, the last annual report of the Equality Tribunal (see appendix 2) gives a list of the Equality Officers as at 31 December 2014. Louise Boyle is not on this list.
2.5 In her written decisions on our four complaints, handed down on 16 November 2017, Louise Boyle makes the following statement: “This decision is issued by me following the establishment of the Workplace Relations Commission on 01 October 2015, as an Adjudication Officer who was an Equality Officer prior to 01 October 2015, in accordance with section 84 of the Workplace Relations Act 2015” (emphasis added). Louise Boyle has repeated this claim in five other written decisions (as of the date of writing of this report, she has dealt with a total of nine legacy complaints).
2.6 On Monday 15 January 2018, we published a short article on our concerns with Louise Boyle and the WRC. Subsequent to this, at some point between 15 January 2018 and 17 January 2018, Louise Boyle took down her LinkedIn profile (which has 500+ connections) so that it is no longer publicly viewable. Her profile provided full details about her career and employers from 2003 until the present. There was no mention of the Equality Tribunal or the role of Equality Officer on her profile.
2.7 Her profile stated that she worked as a Human Resource Manager with PlanNet21 Communications, a technology firm based in Dublin, from January 2014 until June 2016. In her own words, Louise Boyle described this position as “HR Manager with HR Responsibilities across 4 sites”. Further to this, her profile stated that she has been working as a WRC Adjudication Officer (among other roles) from June 2016 to the present. These details flatly contradict Louise Boyle’s claim that she “was an Equality Officer prior to 01 October 2015”.
2.8 We have also examined the database of decisions and determinations available on the Workplace Relations website. This official database contains all decisions and recommendations of the Equality Tribunal since 1996, together with decisions and determinations of the Labour Court, the Employment Appeals Tribunal and the Workplace Relations Commission. Entering “Louise Boyle” (with quotation marks) in the keyword search box (and leaving all other fields blank) produces a list of all decisions handed down by Louise Boyle.
2.9 The list of Louise Boyle’s decisions reveals that she began conducting regular hearings as a WRC Adjudication Officer on 23 August 2016. Her only activity prior to this date was the investigation of three complaints (ADJ-00000042, ADJ-00000365 and DEC-E2016-120) with hearing dates on 29 January 2016, 11 February 2016, 06 April 2016 and 21 April 2016. There are no earlier decisions or determinations in the official database handed down by Louise Boyle. In particular, there are no records in the official database to back up Louise Boyle’s claim that she “was an Equality Officer prior to 01 October 2015”.
2.10 In our view there is no way to reconcile the information presented above with Louise Boyle’s claim that she “was an Equality Officer prior to 01 October 2015”. The evidence indicates that Louise Boyle’s claim is false and therefore that she had no lawful basis to investigate our complaints. Hence we consider her decisions in respect of our complaints to be void ab initio.
3. Quality of decision-making of WRC Adjudication Officer Louise Boyle
3.1 On 09 June 2017 we wrote a letter of complaint regarding Louise Boyle’s conduct and eligibility to Oonagh Buckley, Director General of the WRC. We subsequently wrote to Frances Fitzgerald TD, the then Tánaiste and Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, requesting a meeting. The Minister refused our request. On 26 June 2017 we received a reply from David Small, Head of Adjudication Services at the WRC, curtly dismissing our concerns. All of our correspondence with the WRC and with the Minister in relation to this matter is contained in the appendix at the end of this report.
3.2 By November 2017, six months after the final hearing into the complaints, we had not received Louise Boyle’s decisions. We contacted the WRC on several occasions, but no reason for the delay was provided, nor would David Small provide any indication of when the decisions would be forthcoming. As a last resort we contacted RTÉ Liveline on Monday 13 November 2017. They were interested in our story and reached out to both NUI Galway and the WRC for comment. Within a week of Liveline’s contact with the WRC, we received Louise Boyle’s decisions in the post, dated Thursday 16 November 2017.
3.3 Louise Boyle dismissed each of our complaints, stating that the majority of the claims we made were either time-barred or had not been notified correctly to NUI Galway. Louise Boyle’s decisions avoid completely the substantive element of the majority of our claims. These decisions could therefore have been written after the second day of hearings on 08 December 2016, thereby saving significant time and expense for all the parties and for the taxpayer. In fact, during the first and second day of hearings we repeatedly asked Louise Boyle to make a preliminary ruling on the issues of time limits and notification, in the interests of saving time and expense. She categorically refused to do so.
3.4 On Monday 10 November 2014 we were disbarred for life from membership of all student societies at NUI Galway. At this point we had already submitted our four complaints to the Equality Tribunal, claiming that NUI Galway’s failure to deal with poster ripping, bullying, harassment and abusive behaviour amounted to discrimination on the ground of our religion. Following clarification from the Equality Tribunal, we amended the proceedings (by way of letter to the Equality Tribunal) to include the lifetime disbarment from student societies as an alleged act of discrimination and victimisation. The Equality Tribunal forwarded notice of this amendment to NUI Galway.
3.5 Louise Boyle took issue with this amendment of the proceedings, finding that we had not correctly notified NUI Galway in relation to the lifetime disbarment, and that hence she had no jurisdiction to investigate it. Her finding in this regard directly contravenes extensive legal precedent, such as the Labour Court decision of Department of Foreign Affairs v Patricia Cullen [EDA 116], which is a parallel of our situation in relation to notification. In coming to her conclusion on this matter, Louise Boyle appealed to no legal authority other than the statute itself. She rejected, without explanation, the substantial body of legal precedent that was presented at the hearings. Her decisions are thus fundamentally flawed and contrary to the standards of diligence, competence and fairness that one would normally associate with judicial duty.
Louise Boyle has claimed that she “was an Equality Officer prior to 01 October 2015”. The evidence indicates that this claim is false. Louise Boyle’s conduct and the quality of her decisions seriously call into question her fitness to hold office as an Adjudication Officer of the Workplace Relations Commission.
Out of necessity, due to the 42-day time limit for lodgement of appeals, Enoch Burke, Ammi Burke, Kezia Burke and I have appealed Louise Boyle’s decisions to the Circuit Court, citing the elements of this report as the grounds for our appeals.
We hereby call upon the Workplace Relations Commission to:-
- declare Adjudication Officer Louise Boyle’s decisions in respect of our complaints to be void ab initio; and
- rehear our complaints in accordance with the Equal Status Acts and section 84 of the Workplace Relations Act 2015; and
- (i) compensate us for our expenses in relation to the voided decisions and (ii) pay all costs of the aforementioned Circuit Court proceedings.
We are resolute in our determination to have our complaints heard, investigated, and decided upon in full accordance with the law.
Tuesday 06 February 2018
Published at http://burkebroadcast.com
This report is delivered to:
Oonagh Buckley, Director General of the Workplace Relations Commission, Lansdowne House, Lansdowne Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4
Heather Humphreys TD, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, 23 Kildare Street, Dublin 2
Members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, Leinster House, Kildare Street, Dublin 2
[Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, Colm Brophy TD, Jack Chambers TD, Clare Daly TD, Peter Fitzpatrick TD, Jim O’Callaghan TD, Mick Wallace TD, Senator Frances Black, Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee, Senator Martin Conway, Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile]
For the appendix of correspondence, see pages 10-24 of the report in pdf format.