The growing caseload of compensation claims against allegedly "racist" university and college employers is alarming education managers. They fear an increasing number of frivolous industrial tribunal claims.
But the Commission for Racial Equality, which has supported lecturers' claims, says it has received more than 200 applications for assistance in race discrimination cases in further and higher education since 1993. The CRE said cases are only taken on after careful and considered advice from experienced lawyers. "Each case is judged purely on the merits of the evidence provided as to whether unlawful discrimination has occured," it said.
A tribunal recently found Northumberland College guilty of racial discrimination after lecturer Alan Bryans was called an "Irish prat" by a colleague and subsequently not shortlisted for an appointment. A media attack on Mr Bryans followed and Willie Mills, the principal of the college, said that, while he did not condone the incident, it fell a long way short of other "hard and nasty" cases of racial abuse. Mr Mills said he feared the case could jeopardise the success of "serious" grievance claims elsewhere.
At Leeds Metropolitan University last week a case brought on the grounds of racial discrimination - its second racial discrimination tribunal in two years - found in favour of Janet Sewell, an afro-caribbean who was awarded more than Pounds 8,000 after being passed over for two posts. A university spokesman said LMU was disappointed with the decision. "We are clear that no race discrimination was intended," he said.
Lecturers' unions acknowledge the increasing number of tribunal claims but the Association of University Teachers stresses that this is a reflection of changing employment practises, and not a result of unscrupulous academics exploiting the system. Natfhe negotiator Liz Allen noted that tribunals gave individuals redress but usually failed to solve wider issues.
Mr Bryans is awaiting the tribunal's decision on his Pounds 30,000 compensation claim. The tribunal found that "vulgar abuse" had caused him considerable distress.
But Mr Mills said he was now conducting an investigation arising out of what Mr Bryans had told the tribunal. "He said he was unable to sleep, eat or lead any semblance of a normal life," he said. "It now appears he has been able to work for another college doing similar work to that for which he claims to be medically unfit."
1995: MAJOR INDUSTRIAL TRIBUNALS IN FURTHER AND HIGHER EDUCATION: January: A lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, sacked for pestering a student with sexually aggressive letters, ruled not unfairly dismissed.
March: Glasgow University lost its appeal against a decision that it unfairly dismissed two staff on fixed-term contracts.
Manchester University found to have racially discriminated against a lecturer on three occasions.
May: London Guildhall University found guilty of unlawful victimisation of a senior law lecturer.
July: Kingsway College in London lost its appeal against a decision in November that it discriminated against a lecturer on the grounds of race and victimised him.
July: Northumberland College found guilty of discrimination after a lecturer was called an "Irish prat". A claim for Pounds 30,000 compensation is now being considered.
August: Tribunal found in favour of Janet Sewell, passed over for two administrative posts at Leeds Metropolitan University.