Salaries of high-earning professors to remain confidential

Tribunal ruling against pay transparency will not extend to senior managers at King’s College London

October 9, 2014

Highly paid professors will not have their salaries published after a university overturned a legal ruling on pay transparency, but a number of senior administrative managers will have their pay disclosed.

King’s College London launched an appeal after it was ordered by the Information Commissioner’s Office to release details of 125 staff earning more than £100,000 a year.

Disclosing the data, which was demanded in a Freedom of Information request, was likely to harm its commercial interests because it would help competitors to poach its top researchers, King’s argued.

In a tribunal judgment published on 2 October, Judge Anisa Dhanji agreed that King’s had proved that there was a “real and significant risk of prejudice to its commercial interests” if the information about academic staff was published.

But Ms Dhanji was not as persuaded by evidence presented by King’s that the 15 non-academic staff who earned more than £100,000 a year should also be exempt from the FoI request.

In a two-day hearing, witnesses for King’s explained why publishing the information may damage staff and the university.

Brent Dempster, director of human resources at King’s, said he might find it hard to lure staff from the private sector if they knew their salary was to be made public, while current staff might demand money if they knew what their counterparts at other universities earned. Mr Dempster presented testimony from staff at King’s. One individual said that he feared “unfair commentary in the press” if his salary was known, while “his children may be taunted by other children whose parents earn more or less than he earns”, it was claimed.

However, Ms Dhanji rejected many of these claims. The publication of salary information might lead to ill feeling among less well-paid colleagues but this was unlikely to prejudice any commercial interest. King’s should be able to justify the salaries to staff and donors, as it did with the principal’s pay, she said.

She ruled that King’s should publish salary details on six of the 15 non-academic staff because they are on the principal’s leadership team. They include the viceprincipal for strategy and development, the director of finance and Mr Dempster’s role.

A King’s spokeswoman said the university was “disappointed” by the ruling and is taking legal advice before deciding whether to appeal.

Adalbert Lubicz, who made the original FoI request, added that he was astonished that King’s had sought to block publication on the grounds that staff could use the salary data to see if they were underpaid compared with their colleagues.

“In the context of ongoing gender imbalance in pay, this desire to keep salaries secret for fear that employees might notice an injustice seems a particularly remarkable admission,” he said.

Mr Lubicz also questioned why the judgment failed to specify reasons for dropping the case against 110 academic staff or why it did not refer to US state universities, where salary publication is routine.

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