Sacked University Professor Wins Right to Compensation

Just because an employee is partially to blame for his or her own dismissal does not make it fair. In one case that made that point, a university professor won the right to compensation after a personality clash with his boss led to the loss of his job (Allen v Queen Mary University of London).

The professor, Dr John Frederick Allen, was opposed to his superior's plans to restructure the department in which he worked at Queen Mary University of London. He and a colleague wrote a letter which was highly critical of his boss and which appeared in a widely respected journal. An Employment Tribunal (ET) found that the letter was misleading. It seriously impacted on his superior's reputation and affected other academics working in the department.

After Dr Allen went on sabbatical leave, he returned to find that all his previous teaching assignments had been withdrawn. He lodged a formal grievance and refused to take up alternative teaching work. Following an investigation and disciplinary process, he was summarily dismissed.

In ruling Dr Allen's dismissal unfair, the ET criticised the University's handling of the matter. Amongst other things, it had failed to consult him properly and had unreasonably delayed dealing with his grievance. However, the ET found that he had contributed to his dismissal by 100 percent and refused to make either a basic or compensatory award.

In upholding his challenge to that decision, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) found that the ET had failed to give adequate reasons for the latter decision. The refusal to award compensation was at odds with the serious criticisms made of the University and it could not be said that Dr Allen was wholly responsible for his dismissal. There had clearly been fault on both sides.

Exercising its own discretion, the EAT found that his compensation award should be reduced by 25 per cent to take account of the chance that, had correct procedures been followed, he could have been fairly dismissed. A further one-third reduction was also required to reflect his contributory fault.

The amount of the award will be calculated by a freshly constituted ET.