High Court reporters
A lecturer at the University of Galway has launched High Court proceedings over what he claims is a wrongful suspension from his job following a "false accusation" that he allegedly engaged in sexual activity in his office with one of his female students.
The action has been brought by Nigel Roberts, who is a lecturer at the University's School of Podiatric Medicine.
Mr Roberts says he was wrongfully suspended from his position in early February 2022 after, he says, a colleague wrongly claimed to have allegedly "heard noises of an intimate nature, suggestive of some form of sexual activity" coming from the applicant's office.
Mr Roberts denies ever having sexual relations with the student in question and says that the ongoing investigation into the allegation is flawed and should be halted.
He claims the complaint was made by a colleague who, Mr Roberts alleges, "bears me considerable ill will". Mr Roberts also alleged that this person has made other complaints against him, claiming they hold a significant "animus" against him.
Mr Roberts said that "no sexual activity whatsoever occurred in my office" on the date in question, and the accusation is "an egregious libel".
He says the student, whom he said he does not know terribly well, has confirmed this to investigators appointed by the university.
However, Mr Roberts, who has worked at the university since 2009, remains suspended and has been out of work for over a year resulting in ongoing and extremely significant damage to his reputation, career and health, the court heard.
As a result, Mr Roberts, represented by Oisin Quinn SC with Ray Ryan BL, has brought High Court proceedings against the university in which he seeks various orders, including an injunction halting an ongoing investigation into the allegation against him and an order lifting his suspension allowing him to return to work.
The matter was mentioned before Mr Justice Brian O'Moore during Tuesday's sitting of the High Court.
The judge granted the lecturer permission to serve short notice of the proceedings on the university on an ex-parte basis. The matter will return before the High Court early next week.
In a sworn statement to the court Mr Roberts, a 59-year-old married father of two from Roscahill, Co Galway, said that on January 20th, 2022, a student attended his office.
He said she was extremely upset and had visited his office, like many other students have done, for personal guidance and counselling related to her mother’s serious medical condition.
He said that because the student was extremely distressed, he placed a laminated sign on the door of his office indicating that he was "in a private meeting", and "was not to be disturbed".
He said the colleague who allegedly made the complaint also furnished him with audio recordings of the events of the day in question.
Those recordings, Mr Roberts says, do not in any way indicate any sexual activity, and no clear or discernible sound of any kind can be made out in them.
He said that a barrister has been appointed to investigate the allegation after an initial internal probe was stood down having been found to have departed from the course of natural justice.
Mr Robets claims the latest investigation being conducted by the lawyer is also flawed, on grounds including that the university has never properly articulated exactly what the allegation against him concerns.
He claims the investigation cannot proceed under the university's staff code of conduct and that it is wrong of the university to maintain his suspension where no actual complaint exists.
The college, he adds, has possession of documents from the student, who made it clear that no sexual activity occurred.
No reasonable employer would maintain an investigation in such circumstances, Mr Roberts claims.
He further claims the terms of reference of the ongoing investigation are not clear, and no clarity has been provided to him how the proposed process is to proceed.
He added that under the terms of his suspension he is not allowed attend at the university and says his suspension has caused him immense and extremely damaging reputational damage.
His case, he also adds, has been the subject of an article that appeared in the national media.