What price victory? Ten times more than defeat

July 22, 2010

The huge costs that universities can incur fighting employment tribunal claims, even when the institution is vindicated by the result, have been highlighted by a case in Scotland.

The University of St Andrews spent more than £200,000 on legal fees successfully defending itself against a claim brought by a former lecturer - around 10 times the amount that it might have expected to pay in compensation had it lost the case.

The claim was lodged by Declan Quigley, who alleged that in 2002 he had been forced out of his job as a lecturer in social anthropology by a culture of bullying in his department.

He lost his claim for constructive dismissal in 2004, as well as a subsequent appeal.

A Freedom of Information request has now revealed that the university spent £204,000 on the case - far more than the lecturer could have expected to win.

Dr Quigley, who now practises alternative medicine in Barcelona, claimed that the university and its principal at the time, Brian Lang, had failed in their duty to protect him from what he said were intolerable working conditions.

However, the tribunal dismissed his case after hearing evidence that Dr Quigley had been determined to leave. He later brought an appeal on various points of law but these were thrown out by the Employment Appeals Tribunal following a hearing in 2006.

A spokeswoman for St Andrews said the university had "no option" but to defend the allegations made by Dr Quigley.

She said: "We have a commitment to act fairly with respect to all employees and to publicly establish the facts, especially where the reputation of an academic department is being attacked. In this instance, that responsibility came at considerable cost.

"We regret the cost. As a default, the university seeks to ensure that all its resources are focused on teaching and research. But in this case we are vindicated by the result."

Dr Quigley said that, had he won the case, the employment tribunal would have been unlikely to award him more than £20,000.

"I would have settled for much less than the £200,000-plus that the university ended up spending on its legal expenses," he said.

simon.baker@tsleducation.com

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