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Academic Employment and Security of Tenure – Tribunal Ruling

university style officesIn a case which raised novel issues relating to employment and security of tenure in the academic world, a university lecturer who was dismissed after failing to report a sexual relationship with a student had his hopes of winning compensation boosted by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).

The university had launched an investigation after receiving a tip-off that there had been a sexual encounter between the married lecturer and the female student. He said that she had openly pursued him but admitted that he had succumbed to her advances once. He was sacked following a hearing before a disciplinary panel and his unfair dismissal claim was later rejected by an Employment Tribunal (ET).

The university, an independent corporation that was created by royal charter in 1926 and which enjoyed charitable status, was governed by its own statutes. One of those stated that, before a member of academic staff could be dismissed, it was necessary to prove ‘conduct of an immoral, scandalous or disgraceful nature incompatible with the duties of the office or employment’.

In upholding the lecturer’s appeal, the EAT found that the ET had erred in law in equating the wording of the statute with the modern concept of gross misconduct. Certain opinions that were favourable to the lecturer had also been excised from the investigation report before it was placed before the panel and the ET had failed adequately to investigate that matter. The case was sent back for reconsideration by a freshly constituted ET.