Queen's AUT under fire

May 28, 1999

Queen's AUT president told the equal opportunities officer: 'Here is the latest dose of rubbish from Dr Deman. I shall not even bother to reply to it'

An ethnic minority lecturer had "grounds for distrusting" his local Association of University Teachers' branch at Queen's University, Belfast, an employment tribunal has warned.

As Whistleblowers revealed last week, the North London Industrial Tribunal rejected a complaint of racial discrimination against the national AUT by former QUB lecturer Suresh Deman, but it criticised the local AUT. Although it was outside the tribunal's jurisdiction to rule on allegations against the local AUT, it said that "there was prima facie evidence of less favourable treatment" for Dr Deman in his dispute.

Dr Deman, a UScitizen of Indian origin, has been involved in a long-running dispute with QUBand the AUT since his contested dismissal. The tribunal criticised the AUT president at QUB, Duncan Mercer - who was also the secretary of the QUB senior common room - for active hostility towards him. Mr Mercer wrote to QUB's equal opportunities officer with the comment:

"Here is the latest dose of rubbish from Dr Deman. I shall not even bother to reply to it." This open hostility, said the tribunal, was "bound to have influenced the QUB's treatment" of Dr Deman.

As the dispute escalated, allegations of sexual harassment were brought against Dr Deman by a colleague, Beverley Carroll. Dr Deman had been warned that his allegations of race discrimination would be met by a counter-complaint of sex harassment, the tribunal said. And while Dr Deman was advised by the AUT not to pursue his complaint of race discrimination against the university, the AUT gave "vigorous assistance" to Ms Carroll, despite the fact that she "never at any stage really believed that she had been sexually harassed or discriminated against".

Ms Carroll, the tribunal said, was given instant AUT membership, contrary to usual procedures and despite not having applied previously during six years with the university. "This," said the tribunal, "raised questions as to whether the real reason for showing her membership application preferential treatment was in order to assist her in her complaint against Dr Deman".

Dr Deman also complained that he had been denied legal aid. The AUT legal aid committee rejected his claim for legal help, as he had originally refused representation by the AUT's regular, local solicitors, Hanna & Co, on the grounds of conflict of interest. The tribunal found that Dr Deman "had genuine concerns about Hanna & Co in the light of the fact that the firm was the local AUT's lawyers and a perception of conflict of interest would inevitably arise".

But the tribunal could not rule on the local AUT, and no breach of the Race Relations Act of 1976 was found with regard to the national AUT. Dr Deman is to appeal.

University vindicated in sex scandal Leicester University may now be pleased it failed in its bid to ban press coverage of a sex harassment tribunal it faced last month.

The university originally managed to obtain a Restricted Reporting Order, banning not only the naming of the individuals directly involved, but also the university and 44 other individuals. The order was lifted on appeal, and the university's counter-appeal was rejected.

It can now be reported that the university was vindicated by the tribunal, which threw out the complaint. The complainant is considering an appeal against the decision, and has lodged a further complaint for unfair dismissal against the university.

The case was just one of at least five employment disputes lodged with the employment tribunal at Leicester.

The university also faces a visitorial dispute over its procedure for promoting staff, and a number of statutory appeals.

Lecturers there have set up a support group for academics caught up in discrimination and victimisation disputes.

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