Victory in battle for women's payparity

September 8, 2000

A woman lecturer who was paid less than her male colleagues has won Pounds 10,000 compensation from De Montfort University to settle a sex discrimination claim.

In a landmark case, supported by both the Equal Opportunities Commission and lecturers' union Natfhe, the university has invited the EOC to help it reform its equality policies in an attempt to create a best practice benchmark for the sector. The EOC said the case will reverberate across higher education, where it said gender discrimination remained rife.

Natfhe predicted a flood of further pay-outs as it announced the creation of an equal opportunities unit.

After two years of internal complaints went largely unheeded, senior education lecturer Lorna Chessum took her case to a tribunal last year, arguing that the university was breaching equal pay legislation. After admitting that her job was equivalent to that of a more highly paid but similarly qualified colleague, the university settled.

Dr Chessum was appointed in 1997 at the bottom point of the senior lecturer salary scale, while a male colleague was appointed to a similar role but earned Pounds 6,000-a-year more. The tribunal heard that Dr Chessum had scored more highly on various assessment criteria at interview and arguably had more experience.

As well as the compensation, Dr Chessum was raised to a higher salary point and her promotion to principal lecturer has now been confirmed.

The EOC said that women in higher education were systematically paid less than men, earning an average of 85p for every Pounds 1 earned by men. "Universities have to tackle the pay gap as a matter of urgency," said Jenny Watson, deputy chair of the EOC.

The university has agreed to "review and amend" its equal opportunities policies under the supervision of the EOC by December 15. De Montfort will also review its systems for deciding academics' basic salary to eliminate any gender bias.

A De Montfort spokesperson said: "Over the next few months, management and the trade unions will work together to review our equal opportunities policies and arrangements, involving welcome expertise from the EOC to ensure DMU is in the forefront of best practice."

Dr Chessum said: "This really is a scandal across the sector. But there has been little antagonism with the university." She praised the university's willingness to reform its policies and said she hoped it would provide a guide for the rest of the sector. Neil Williamson, Natfhe branch secretary at De Montfort, said: "The problem is not unique to De Montfort."

Natfhe opened an equal rights unit this week in time for new human rights legislation.

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