Tribunal rules v-c is guilty

December 7, 2007

A tribunal has found the former vice-chancellor of Brunel University, Steven Schwartz, guilty of victimisation after he publicly implied that two former colleagues had behaved dishonestly, writes Melanie Newman. After Brunel staff members Gurdish Webster and Saeed Vaseghi lost claims of race discrimination against the university in 2005, Professor Schwartz sent two circulars around Brunel criticising the pair, whom he did not name.

Bemoaning the expense of defending the cases, he referred to the two as having made "unwarranted demands for money" and described their claims as "unfounded", "unmeritorious" and "futile".

"The cost of the defence exceeded £60,000," wrote Professor Schwartz. "This is money that could have been used for teaching and research." He criticised the then Association of University Teachers for using "members' funds to support futile litigation".

Professor Vaseghi told the tribunal that the message "echoed around the campus" and that as "the high priest of the university", Professor Schwartz's words were accepted without question.

The tribunal concluded that the claimants' sense of grievance was reasonable and justified.

"Professor' Schwartz's assertion that the claimants had made unwarranted demands for money was an implicit assertion of dishonesty on their part," it said. The earlier tribunal, while dismissing the cases of discrimination, had accepted that they were made in good faith.

Professor Vaseghi and Ms Webster were awarded £7,500 each as compensation for injury to their feelings. The tribunal said Professor Schwartz and the university were equally responsible, so each should be liable for half of each award.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: "The findings of the tribunal are important because members of black and minority ethnic communities often feel intimidated and fearful of making legitimate claims of discrimination against their employer."

A spokesperson for Brunel said: "We are taking time to consider the judgment in detail."

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