Four female lecturers at National University of Ireland Galway have sued their employer alleging gender discrimination in a competition for promotion.

The actions have been brought by Dr Sylvie Lannegrand, Dr Róisín Healy, Dr Margaret Hodgins, and Dr Adrienne Gorman.

Their applications for the positions of senior lecturer at the various departments they worked in at the college were unsuccessful following a promotion process operated by the college between October 2008 and April 2009.

In their actions the four represented by Marguerite Bolger SC and Claire Bruton BL, say they were treated less favourably by NUI Galway on grounds of their gender and or family status.

They claim there was a significant disparity in the prospect of success of female applicants compared to males in the promotion competition.

Adequate weight was not given to the teaching and research abilities of female applicants, it was also submitted. The selection process, including short-listing was inconsistent, unfair and tainted by discrimination, they claim.

Candidates were not selected on the basis of their performance and some of the successful male candidates did not meet the minimum requirements of the promotional competition, the suit claims.

The lecturers seek various declarations from the High Court including that the promotion process breached their contracts of employment and contractual entitlement to gender equality, that the competition breached both the 1997 Universities Act and provisions of the Employment Equality Acts and EU law.

They seek damages and orders that they be promoted to the position of senior lecturers in their respective departments from 1 July 2009 together with adjustments to their salaries, pension rights and other benefits effective from this date.

NUI Galway denies the claims. The college says the actions cannot be argued before the High Court, and the lecturers have no cause of action against it.

The Workplace Relations Commission is the proper body charged with determining complaints of employment discrimination, the college says.

It also argued the actions are misconceived and the claims should be dismissed.

The actions were brought against the college following the Equality Tribunal's finding in 2014 that another lecturer at NUIG, Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, had been discriminated on grounds of gender when she was overlooked during the same promotion process.

The tribunal instructed NUI Galway to promote Dr  Sheehy Skeffington, pay her €70,000 and review its appointments system.

The tribunal found that while on paper the promotion appeared to be a fair process based on definitive criteria, in practice it fell short.

There was only one woman on the seven-person interview board. Of 17 promoted to senior lecturer for the whole university, only one was a woman.

The four lecturers did not appeal their failure to be promoted, which they were informed of in April 2009, nor did they make a complaint to the Equality Tribunal.

High Court proceedings were initiated in April 2015.

The High Court actions came before Mr Justice Donald Binchy at the High Court today when NUI Galway asked the court to have certain points of law tried as a preliminary action in advance of the hearing of the academics' main actions.

The points include if the Employment Equality Acts modify the lecturers' contracts of employment to include an implied contractual right to gender equality.

They also want the court to determine if European Union law gives rise to an cause of action against NUI Galway for damages for an alleged breach of an implied contractual right to gender equality, and if there is a cause of action, is their claim statue barred.

Cliona Kimber BL for NUI Galway had argued the hearing and determination of the preliminary issues in advance of the actions, which counsel said were novel claims involving the breaking of new legal ground, would save both court time and expense.

The lecturers opposed the application.

Ms Bolger said the cases raise "complex issues of Irish and EU law", which could not be separated out from all the other issues in the case.

Counsel said that trying the cases, which raise what are "matters of national public interest," before the hearing of the substantive action would prejudice the lecturers.

The lecturers say the application was an attempt to have the claims struck out in an unfair manner.

The most efficient manner to deal with the issues raised was to allow the proceedings take their ordinary course, it was submitted.  

The judge said he would give his decision on the application next week.