April 24, 2007

University agrees to pay £35,000 after losing discrimination case

Academic not given job because she was Irish - Compensation on hold until after an appeal

By Clare Dyer, legal editor. Monday April 23, 2007. The Guardian

Warwick University has agreed to pay £35,000 in compensation, subject to appeal, to an Irish academic after a unanimous employment tribunal ruling that it discriminated against her on the grounds of her race. The Birmingham tribunal ruled last month that the university failed to select Patricia Walls for a research job because she was Irish and gave the post to a less-qualified candidate instead.

A spokesman for the university said that although it had agreed the amount of compensation, it did not accept the tribunal's finding that it was guilty of race discrimination and would be appealing. Payment of the compensation, for loss of earnings and injury to feelings, is on hold, pending the outcome of the appeal.

Dr Walls, 44, who originally comes from Northern Ireland but now lives in Chipping Camden, Gloucestershire, applied for a post in 2005 as a research fellow with the centre for research in ethnicity and mental health, part of the university's medical school.

The job was to carry out research aimed at improving mental health services for black and ethnic minority communities. Dr Walls, who has a PhD in ethnicity and health, has published and carried out extensive fieldwork on the subject. She works as an independent research consultant and holds an honorary research fellowship at Strathclyde University.

Of the four-person interview panel, which included three psychiatrists, two had worked with Dr Walls before. Sivasankaran Sashidharan, an honorary professor, had encouraged her to apply for the post after working with her at Glasgow on a project on the mental health of four minority communities: Afro-Caribbean, south Asian, Chinese and Irish. Hannah Bradby, a sociology lecturer, was on the same team as Dr Walls at Glasgow, but the tribunal found that the two had had a "poor relationship".

Of the three members of the interview panel who gave evidence, one said she had "flicked through" the university's equality and recruitment policies, while the other two admitted they had never read them. The panel did not assess the candidates against the advertised criteria and made their decision on interview performance.

During the interview Dr Walls asked which minority communities the research would cover and was told it would cover Afro-Caribbeans and south Asians. She said it would be a better project if it included the Irish and Chinese communities as well.

The tribunal said the candidate who was appointed had much less research experience than Dr Walls. She had yet to complete her PhD, although when Dr Walls queried the outcome she was told - in what the university says was a genuine error - that she already had a doctorate.

While Dr Walls had submitted a detailed CV, the successful candidate had not put in a CV at all. Dr Walls was given various reasons for her failure, some of which were "very misleading", the tribunal said. It concluded the decision not to appoint her was affected by the assumption the panel made that she would not be interested in the project unless it included the Irish community - an assumption which would not have been made about a non-Irish person.

Dr Walls said she was "very pleased" by the outcome and hoped it would encourage others to challenge flawed recruitment procedures.


Anonymous said...

I am very supportive of Dr Walls' challenge to recruitment malpractice and discrimination.

Having witnessed echoes of such things at the University of Wolverhampton, I understand how recruitment procedures can be used to oppress, bully and discriminate against both employees and others.

Rather than recounting my story here in this comment, however, I find myself at long last prompted to some sort of action. This is after many many months of witnessing things at the University of Wolverhampton that are sometimes difficult to express adequately in words and which have met a wall of silence from various media and official bodies.

At first, when I had the feeling that something was wrong, when I had overcome the initial subconcious denial, I sought to see if my suspicions were only impressions and began to conduct small investigations of my own.

I have noticed that the University of Wolverhampton likes to keep a very low profile (unusual for a University) and so decided it might be helpful to explore the past of this institution to understand the climate of corridors, meetings and all the hate behind the smiling white teeth of division leaders and department heads. This was not a superficial curiosity or one of those things to be gossiped about over coffee in the bar. I had a desire to see more clearly and build a picture of a Uiversity and Department in a way I couldn't access otherwise, being new to this evolving drama. It was helpful to scramble my thoughts and draw them together again in a more coherent way, so that I might have the possibility to understand better the events at the time and the still unfolding situation.

I have been following the stories on this blog and the forum and am disturbed by the similarity to the things I have seen and gathered evidence about.

It is for a sense of social justice that I looked deeper into events at the University of Wolverhampton of which I would like to make the readers of Bullied_Academics aware. They are surprisingly common stories that many others may find their own reflected in.

I will publish these stories on the forum (hopefully with the help of the web editors they may find their way onto the blog). The posts will be titled 'Pack of Wolves' and will denounce my witnessing once and for all.

Here's hoping that others who have witnessed or endured will also read about the University and find their own ways to action.

Regards, M.J.B.

Anonymous said...

"...hoped to challenge flawed recruitment procedures."

Should be : hope to wipe out filth from academia.

Anonymous said...

It is inspiring to read about people who have won through the silence and denial which is overwhelming at times....

...when the dark descends...

Telling our stories on this blog can help to create the turning point...

There are now so many more stories in the media about bullying...

This makes it harder to deny that bullying exists...

harder...but there will still be a very long way to go...

... before bullying in academia can be acknowledged and addressed....

....a start has been made.

In solidarity

Aphra Behn

Anonymous said...

My wife applied for a lectureship, was shortlisted and attended for a day-long interview process that involved a presentation to a full theatre of undergraduates.

She later learned, quite accidentally, that the post had been created for and filled by an existing research assistant (who was neither interviewed nor presented). Extracting free undergraduate entertainment from the poor saps applying for a non-existent opportunity is just plain abuse.