UAL denies quid pro quo pitch over tribunal case

Victim of harassment claims that HR manager proposed a deal. David Matthews reports

August 2, 2012

A university suggested that an alleged victim of harassment could settle an employment tribunal case against the institution as a way of "restoring good relations" during negotiations over her position, it has been claimed.

Shilpa Nathwani said that the University of the Arts London offered her a quid pro quo in exchange for returning to work, an allegation strongly denied by the human resources manager who she claims raised the idea.

The month after the alleged suggestion was made, an employment tribunal on 6 June found that Ms Nathwani - who was a project manager on UAL's now completed King's Cross development - had been harassed on nine counts in the aftermath of a workplace relationship that had broken down.

It judged that Graham Simner, UAL's director of estates, had violated Ms Nathwani's dignity by telling colleagues of his continued feelings for her after the end of their relationship in March 2010.

It also found that Mr Simner had considered making himself Ms Nathwani's line manager after the break-up partly because of his feelings towards her.

Ms Nathwani told Times Higher Education that in December 2010 she suffered a nervous breakdown and was signed off sick with severe depression and anxiety.

In April this year, Ms Nathwani was judged fit to work and in May she met UAL human resources staff accompanied by a trade union representative to discuss how she might return without relapsing.

John Hallam, UAL's deputy HR director, allegedly asked her the "$64,000 question" of whether she would drop her case if an appropriate role was found, according to minutes of the meeting written by Ms Nathwani and Barry Lambert, a representative of the GMB union.

In a later email to Ms Nathwani and copied to Mr Lambert, Mr Hallam strongly denied that he had proposed a deal.

"The issue of possible settlement was discussed in an exploratory way in terms of restoring good relations" but not in terms of a quid pro quo offer, he wrote.

UAL admitted to Ms Nathwani in a letter that the comment was "unnecessary and unhelpful" but that it was "unlikely" that Mr Hallam had meant to make a deal.

The university told THE it would be a breach of confidentiality to comment on a private meeting.

Ms Nathwani was told in a letter from the university in June that it was no longer paying her a salary. She said the institution had put her on half pay in June 2011 and had stopped paying her in December.

The university would not comment on why this was the case, but Ms Nathwani said it was in line with sick leave rules.

She has not yet found another role at the institution despite still being technically employed by it.

The tribunal dismissed Ms Nathwani's complaints of sexual and racial discrimination, an outcome a UAL spokeswoman said the university "welcomes". It "accepts, however, that the tribunal found that some claims of harassment were upheld", she added.

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