Non-sexist harassment

March 3, 2000

'The critical finding, in our view, was that Professor Xydeas treated his subordinates evenhandedly, that is badly, without discriminating between the sexes' Manchester University has been cleared of a charge of sex discrimination because harassment took place indiscriminately, irrespective of gender, an appeal tribunal has ruled.

The tribunal dismissed an appeal by Violet Leavers, whose complaints of unlawful sex discrimination against Manchester University were dismissed by the Manchester tribunal in 1998.

The case focused on the harassment of Dr Leavers, the only woman in Manchester's school of engineering, by Costas Xydeas, her line manager at the signal processing group (SPG).

In November 1995 Dr Leavers complained to equal opportunities officer Steven Grant that she was being bullied by Professor Xydeas, and it was established that he could be "difficult to work with" but no action was taken against him. Dr Leavers transferred to another research unit.

In July 1997, following further complaints about working conditions, Dr Leavers went on sick leave and she made a formal complaint in autumn 1997.

Ignoring the objections of Dr Leavers, the university chose Mr Grant, then personnel officer for the engineering department, to conduct the investigation. The investigation, instigated after Dr Leavers's original complaint to the tribunal, found that Dr Leavers "had suffered a disadvantage and her career had been damaged by having to leave the SPG" but "Professor Xydeas's conduct was not gender-related. He was guilty of inappropriate behaviour to a number of his subordinates."

In December 1997 Professor Xydeas was given a written warning and removed as head of the group.The university admitted to the Manchester tribunal that Dr Leavers "had been subjected to treatment by Professor Xydeas which constituted harassment".

The original tribunal found Dr Leavers had not formally alleged sex discrimination until 1997, and it found no evidence Professor Xydeas had made sexist remarks to her. Because of complaints against Professor Xydeas by male staff, it ruled that Professor Xydeas had not been sexist.

The tribunal also ruled that because the complaint of sex discrimination against Professor Xydeas failed, Dr Leavers's allegations that the university failed to properly act on her complaints also failed.

Ruling on the appeal, Judge Peter Clark said: "The critical finding, in our view, was that Professor Xydeas treated his subordinates evenhandedly, that is badly, without discriminating between the sexes."

Professor Xydeas has now left the university and Dr Leavers is on a sabbatical.

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