Dismissal was 'unfair''

July 7, 2000

'The Middlesex chair of governors, Sir Michael Partridge, "conducted the whole (appeal) proceedings over the telephone. This is not good practice", the tribunal said'

Middlesex University "completely overlooked an essential safeguard" of employees' rights when it unfairly dismissed an administrator after almost 25 years of service, a tribunal has found.

Judith Abrahams was dismissed in late 1999 because a dean, Brian Hipkin, wanted to get rid of her for personal reasons, the North London tribunal found. According to the judgment, the human resources manager, Louise Atkins Cole, was a "willing accomplice" and the chairman of governors, Sir Michael Partridge, a former permanent secretary of the Department of Social Security, presided over a flawed appeal procedure conducted over the telephone.

Mrs Abrahams, who had worked at the university since 1975 and was student loans and events administrator, claimed that she had been selected for redundancy because Mr Hipkin, dean of students at the business school's campus in Hendon, wanted to get rid of her.

The tribunal concluded: "Mr Hipkin retained his role as chief investigating officer and decision-maker in order to ensure that Mrs Abrahams was dismissed, in spite of the fact that the bulk of her job would remain unaffected by anticipated changes. We find that this was not a genuine redundancy." The dismissal "was not for genuine business reasons".

The tribunal also said that the university had failed to follow its own redundancy procedures. The rules state that the vice-chancellor, or the deputy when formally delegated, must personally authorise any dismissal through redundancy. But "there is no evidence that the vice-chancellor even knew about Mrs Abrahams's redundancy", the tribunal said. "We take a very serious view of the fact that an essential safeguard of the respondents' employees' rights appears to have been completely overlooked," the chair said.

Mrs Abrahams's appeal against her dismissal was also handled badly. "We did not regard (the appeal) as much of a safeguard of Mrs Abrahams's rights," the tribunal said, adding that Sir Michael "conducted the whole (appeal) proceedings over the telephone. This is not good practice."

The tribunal said that Sir Michael's decision to talk separately to each panel member that he had appointed "could influence their independence and impartiality". "We are not satisfied from Sir Michael's evidence that Mrs Abrahams's appeal was fully and properly considered by anyone other than Sir Michael himself," the tribunal said. "By the way in which the appeal process was conducted by Sir Michael Partridge, we take the view that justice was not done."

Middlesex said it was considering an appeal and pointed out that the tribunal said that Mrs Abrahams "contributed to her dismissal" by not pursuing redeployment opportunities offered to her.

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