Brendan Leahy, a senior Trinity College Dublin manager sacked after pleading guilty to a sexual assault, today dropped his legal bid to be reinstated to his €120,000 job after being told he would have to tell a public hearing about the event that led to him being charged in the first place.
His barrister told the Workplace Relations Commission on Friday that Mr Leahy had taken steps to have press reports on his sexual assault case from March 2021 “expunged from Google searches” and that he did not want the details “re-reported”.
Mr Leahy pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a woman at Kehoe’s Pub on South Anne Street, Dublin 2 in the summer of 2018.
On March 24th 2021 he received a suspended three-month sentence at Dublin District Court on condition that he complete a sex offenders course and to pay a fine and a further sum in compensation. He later appealed to Dublin Circuit Criminal Court and was given the benefit of the Probation Act in July 2021. The tribunal heard Mr Leahy wrote to the college’s HR department in early August 2021 stating that the Circuit Court order meant his conviction had been “disposed of”.
Mr Leahy’s complaint under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 against the university over his sacking still stands, with an adjudicator now considering the evidence following a third and final hearing in the matter on Friday.
The college’s barrister, Rosemary Mallon BL, said Mr Leany’s 27-year career at the college had ended in a “fair dismissal” from his role as head of facilities and services.
Counsel for Mr Leahy said there had been a “value judgment” by HR staff in the university on the seriousness of his client’s sexual assault conviction at the District Court and that the Circuit Court had considered the matter to be “trivial”.
“The advice was that in pleading guilty it would be viewed well by the courts; it was considered at the lowest end, minor in nature. It would save the person in the case, who was living in America, coming back, and the likelihood was that the Probation Act would be applied,” Mr Leahy said in relation to discussions he had with a solicitor for the criminal matter.
“I was shocked and ashamed that this thing had happened and I did, I trusted in the advice I’d been given that it would be dealt with in the way I had been advised,” he said.
He said that when things did not go as he hoped at the District Court he phoned Trinity’s HR director Antoinette Cunningham and informed her as he walked home from the District Court after it recorded a conviction against him – a phone call Ms Cunningham said was the first time anyone in the university became aware that the complainant had been charged.
“By choosing not to inform college in advance of the hearing Mr Leahy took a chance that the case would be reported. His insistence that he was not obliged to report a criminal charge ... [does] not repudiate the fact that he sexually assaulted a woman,” she said.
The tribunal was told that Mr Leahy’s line manager found out about the plea when he got texts about news reports published on the day.
The disciplinary minutes opened to the tribunal include references made by Mr Leahy to “family issues” and “a very bad relationship with alcohol” at the time of an alleged Christmas party incident in December 2017 and the incident giving rise to his guilty plea to sexual assault.
The WRC has heard that Trinity received a second allegation of sexual harassment against Mr Leahy dating back to a Christmas party at the Trinity Inn on December 14th, 2017 from a former university employee identified only as Ms X in proceedings.
The university’s academic secretary Patricia Callaghan, who led the disciplinary procedure following an investigation by employment law expert Mairead McKenna SC, gave evidence on Thursday.
“In many ways he gambled. There’s a gamble there if you have that kind of advice,” Ms Callaghan said.
“I just wasn’t convinced there was genuine understanding, genuine remorse. Mr Leahy had so much opportunity to show that,” she added.
“What evidence had you that it was a serious crime,” counsel for the complainant, Aaron Shearer BL, asked the witness in cross-examination.
“That sexual assault is a serious crime? Mr Leahy pleaded guilty to sexual assault ... I am supposed to rely on ‘it was on the low end of the scale’?” Ms Callaghan replied.
Ms Mallon put it to Mr Leahy under cross-examination that he had entered a guilty plea to sexual assault under the 1990 legislation in the area, referring to “indecent assault”.
“I don’t know the definition of ‘indecent’,” Mr Leahy said.
“You don’t know what ‘indecent’ means?” counsel said.
A legal discussion followed on the use of the term, with Ms Mallon saying there had been a recent decision of the Supreme Court on the subject.
“Does it say indecency is serious?” Mr Shearer asked, disputing that there was equivalence.
Ms Mallon went on to ask whether a whether a man giving a woman a “pat on the bottom” would be serious.
“I think everything is in context,” Mr Leahy said.
“I’m asking you – an unsolicited, unwanted pat on the bottom,” counsel said.
“You hadn’t mentioned unsolicited,” he said.
“The very nature of an assault is that it’s unsolicited,” Ms Mallon said.
“If it’s done with intent, it would be,” the complainant said.
In a later submission, Mr Leahy’s barrister said of the “pat on the bum” scenario posed to his client: “I say it is capable of not being a serious matter. Do I suggest it’s proper, no. Do I suggest it’s right? No. Is it capable of not being serious? Yes.”
Ms Mallon went on to ask Mr Leahy to state what had been alleged in the sexual assault charge against him in 2021, which she said was still unknown to the college following the investigation and three days of hearing at the WRC.
“Why is this question being asked,” Mr Shearer said, objecting.
“Oh, it’s very pertinent, I will have this,” Ms Mallon said.
“If it wasn’t before Trinity it can’t be part of the decision to dismiss,” Mr Shearer said.
“Mr Leahy is also looking to be reinstated – therefore the particulars of what he pleaded to in the District Court have massive implications. It goes to the heart of this case,” Ms Mallon said.
“Of course, if Mr Leahy was to drop the request for reinstatement we could move on,” she continued.
“Best I ask the question,” Mr Shearer said.
Following a short recess during which he took instruction, Mr Shearer returned and said his client was withdrawing his application for reinstatement as a remedy in the case.
“He has particular concerns about the re-reporting of that which he has had expunged from Google searches,” he said.
Mr Leahy said in his evidence that while he was out on paid suspension in April 2021 he was “hearing rumours in Trinity” from April that there was “something in my past”.
“I was being told this double whammy was going to be the end of me. Lump them both in together and I’m out the door,” he said, adding that he felt the university’s HR department “wasn’t being completely honest” with him.
The tribunal heard that, regarding the second allegation of sexual harassment against Mr Leahy, Ms X had accused him of miming the act of oral sex at her across the bar during a karaoke party.
Mr Shearer said Ms X, who was no longer an employee of the college, “wasn’t entitled” to bring a complaint under its dignity and respect policy.
He said Trinity’s previous head of HR, Ken O’Doherty, had told Ms X it would not investigate prior complaints she had made on that basis.
Mr Shearer said the delay of three years and four months before investigating the alleged incident with Ms X was “inordinate and inexcusable” and that there were issues with Ms X’s credibility which could have been dealt with without a full investigation if the college had followed its own procedure.
The tribunal heard Mr Leahy had earned a salary of over €120,000 before losing the job and that his dismissal meant a likely reduction of a quarter to a third of the value of his defined-benefit pension.
He told the tribunal he was retraining to work as a trucker and expected to earn €35,000 to €40,000 a year if he found employment.
Adjudicating officer David James Murphy closed the hearing of the case to consider his decision.