A former senior manager at Trinity College Dublin claims he was unfairly sacked from his €120,000-a-year job after college authorities learned from a press report that he pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting an American tourist.

The Workplace Relations Commission was told the university's management "went into a tailspin" when news broke that in March 2021 that its head of facilities, Brendan Leahy, had pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting the woman at Kehoe's Pub on South Anne Street, Dublin 2 in the summer of 2018.

Mr Leahy, with an address at Fenian Street, Dublin 2, was given a suspended three-month sentence by 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 August 2021.

The tribunal today heard that Mr Leahy’s line manager only became aware that a charge had been brought against the complainant when he received a text on the evening the newspaper reports began to appear.

The WRC is now hearing a complaint under the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 by Mr Leahy against the university.

By August 2021, the tribunal was told, Trinity had already placed Mr Leahy on paid leave and launched an investigation.

It had received a second allegation of sexual harassment against Mr Leahy dating back to a Christmas party at the Trinity Inn on 14 December 2017 from a former university employee identified only as Ms X in proceedings.

Ms X had accused Mr Leahy of miming a sex act at her across the bar during a karaoke party, the tribunal heard.

"[He] stood close to me and a colleague… berating me and intimidating me and then proceeded to imitate a sexual gesture with his hands and mouth," Ms X wrote in an email to college authorities.

Mr Leahy’s case is that the investigations against him were procedurally flawed and pre-determined, failing to take into account the order of the Circuit Court giving him the Probation Act.

The college’s position on the appeal is that in order for Mr Leahy to have received the benefit of the Probation Act, the charge had to be proven.

He also told a disciplinary hearing that the investigation he had been subjected to in respect of the matters had been "adversarial".

Tribunal hears details of guilty plea

That was denied in evidence today by Mairead McKenna, the employment law barrister appointed by the university to examine the allegations against Mr Leahy.

The university’s barrister Rosemary Mallon said Ms McKenna had had made findings of fact that Mr Leahy had entered a guilty plea to the sexual assault charge at the District Court and received a sentence; that he had not provided that information to his employer, and that the Probation Act had been applied at the Circuit Court on appeal.

Ms McKenna also made findings in the second investigation "completely upholding" Ms X’s complaint, Ms Mallon added.

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".

"It was his position that because his conviction 'no longer existed’ there was nothing for me to look into… He told me ‘That’s gone.’ I was trying to reconcile that with the fact that he had apparently pleaded guilty before the district court," Ms McKenna said.

A major issue in dispute in the case centres on the interpretation of the Probation Act in the context of the investigation and disciplinary proceedings.

Counsel for the complainant, Aaron Shearer, put it to Ms McKenna that there were two options open in such an appeal: one to dismiss the information or charge and one to discharge the offence on certain conditions.

"But the facts are proven, Mr Shearer. I was very careful, very careful of this in the findings I came to to take account of the legal position arrived to after the appeal," Ms McKenna said.

She went on to add that the conviction is "recorded as being dismissed on the Circuit Court order, however the facts remain proven".

"That’s the one thing Mr Leahy wouldn’t own up to. I was very careful in my findings that they were correct as a matter of law and I stand over that," she said.

Mr Shearer put it to her that the Circuit Court judge had dismissed it as a "trivial matter" and that the garda in the criminal case had said that what Mr Leahy had been prosecuted for was "at the very lowest end" of the scale.

"I’m asking why you perceived it as a very serious matter," Mr Shearer said.

"The point of fundamental distinction is between criminal and civil. Whether the guard viewed it as trivial or not, I don’t know. I was looking at it as a civil matter."

Mr Shearer had indicated on a previous date that he would be making a full legal submission on the subject of the appeal.

Line manager not informed

Under cross-examination, Ms McKenna said that Mr Leahy had taken the position with her that the circuit court order meant "it’s over, it’s gone, nothing to see here".

At a previous hearing date last November, the college’s HR director Mary Leahy said the complainant "had not informed his line manager of the charge or what was going on prior to conviction" and was asked to take paid leave as an investigation began.

There was a two-week delay before the office of the Trinity Provost forwarded the complaint to its HR department on 14 April that year, the tribunal was told, and an investigation into this allegation also began.

Ms Leahy said that although previous complaints by Ms X had not been formally investigated, the college felt it "proper and appropriate" to look into her claims when they were made again in 2021, identifying Mr Leahy.

She said there was "no prejudice" to Mr Leahy as a result of the delay of over three years before an investigation was opened into Ms X’s complaint.

"It would be absolutely inappropriate for there to be an order of reinstatement or re-engagement in this case," she said.

She added: "This is a university with female staff and female students. I say it is entirely appropriate and reasonable for Trinity College to say it has no trust and confidence in Mr Leahy now."

Adjudicating officer David James Murphy adjourned the hearing overnight.