Tribunal restricts 'vexatious litigant'

September 8, 2006

Panel finds that a lecturer who won thousands of pounds alleging bias had no 'worthwhile' evidence, writes Phil Baty

A lecturer who has caused "enormous inconvenience, harassment and expense" to British universities over a ten-year period of legal action has been declared a "vexatious litigant" by the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT).

A "restriction of proceedings order" has been made against Suresh Deman. This, in effect, puts an end to a period that included at least 40 employment tribunal cases and involved at least 40 appeals to the EAT and the Court of Appeal against 19 separate higher education institutions and scores of university staff since 1996.

Mr Deman, a US citizen of Indian origin, has become a well-known figure in UK higher education and has received payments amounting to tens of thousands of pounds through settlements and the occasional legal victory.

He took out most of his cases after failing to secure posts in the UK sector. The tribunal had evidence of 70 job applications but was told on Mr Deman's behalf that he had made approaching 1,000.

In granting an application to halt his activities from the Attorney-General, the tribunal said that it seemed that litigation had "to a considerable extent become an end in itself" and that the conduct of his various claims had been Mr Deman's "principal activity in the years in question". His desire to secure employment had become an "increasingly secondary" aim.

His cases include attempts to adjourn hearings on grounds that were "inadequate, confusing and sometimes spurious or disingenuous". He had also made "wanton allegations of bias and racism" against lawyers and tribunal staff involved in his many cases.

Mr Deman, 52, has had only two spells of employment in UK higher education, both of which ended in litigation, and he has not worked in the UK since 1999.

He was a lecturer at Queen's University Belfast from February 1994 to October 1995, which sparked a ten-year legal battle when his employment was terminated. The parties finally settled out of court in 2005. The university paid him £30,000.

He was a senior lecturer at Greenwich University from 1997 to 1999, when he was dismissed for misconduct. He made 70 complaints against the university and its staff during a six-week hearing in 2002. The tribunal upheld two claims, leading to a payment of £43,000.

In a 105-page judgment listing his cases, the tribunal said that Mr Deman had acted vexatiously, "habitually and persistently".

The tribunal said that of 31 cases against institutions that had failed to appoint him, eight were settled and three were dismissed without a full hearing. Six are pending.

Of the 14 that have had a full hearing, all but two "failed wholly". But the two in which he was successful, against Nottingham University and the European School of Economics, were only "very partial" victories, the tribunal said.

"This is a very poor success rate - and the disproportion between success and failure is much more striking if one considers individual claims as opposed to tribunal applications," the tribunal said.

The tribunal said that Mr Deman's chances of success "in relation to the great majority of the claims were, and should objectively have been, judged to be, very poor."

In "no case" where he had alleged primary discrimination did he "have any worthwhile positive evidence". In some cases, he claimed discrimination even when the successful candidate had been from an ethnic minority.

The tribunal also found that his candidature for "a large number of the posts" was in fact "very weak". In several cases, including several professorships, he simply was not qualified for the job.

The tribunal said: "It is his practice to assert racial discrimination as a response to any decision or action adverse to him."

phil.baty@thes.co.uk

DEMAN'S LEGAL HIGH POINTS

* Successful proceedings for race bias against Pittsburgh University in the US (where Suresh Deman's employment was terminated in 1987) led to an award of damages and interest of more than $45,000 (£23,700)

* King's College London paid £12,000 to settle three sets of proceedings against it out of court

* Sheffield University agreed to pay £11,000 in an out-of-court settlement

* £30,000 out-of-court settlement from Queen's University Belfast

* Swansea University paid a £15,500 settlement

* Nottingham University was ordered to pay £12,500 compensation when part of a tribunal claim succeeded

* Imperial College London paid a £14,500 settlement

* The European School of Economics was ordered to pay £35,667 after a successful claim

* Greenwich University paid out £43,000 after two of 70 separate complaints were upheld.

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