Whistleblowers: Scholar in Oxford race row loses his appeal

February 15, 2002

Oxford University did not racially discriminate against researcher Chinasa Anya, despite a number of "regrettable" breaches of its equal opportunities procedures, when it rejected him in favour of a white candidate for a research post, an employment tribunal has found.

The Reading tribunal confirmed last week that there were a number of procedural breaches when Dr Anya was shortlisted, interviewed and rejected for a research post in 1996. The shortlisting was conducted by a single person, against the rules, candidates were not given a job specification, in breach of equal opportunities procedures, and the candidates' references were not taken up.

The tribunal said that this showed "perhaps a general antipathy among some academics to adhere to administrative procedures", rather than any intention to discriminate against Dr Anya. In a ruling last week, the tribunal decided unanimously that Dr Anya's complaint of discrimination under the Race Relations Act 1976 "fails and is dismissed".

Dr Anya joined Oxford's department of materials in 1994 as a postdoctoral research assistant, but left the university in 1996 when his contract ran out and he was rejected for a new research post. Dr Anya had claimed that his research supervisor, departmental head Steven Roberts, had often shown prejudice towards him, denying him opportunities to propose research projects and publish papers in his own name, or to attend conferences.

Dr Roberts drew up the shortlist for the post and was on the three-member interview panel that rejected Dr Anya. A tribunal in 1997 rejected Dr Anya's claims of discrimination. It said that although it had exposed "inconsistencies" in Dr Roberts's evidence under cross-examination, it regarded him as "essentially a witness of truth".

The Court of Appeal overturned the 1997 tribunal decision last year. It said its judgement had been "lacking" because it failed to make any findings about the significance of the inconsistencies in the university's evidence or the significance of the procedural breaches.

But the latest judgment, following a fresh hearing late last year, has confirmed the original ruling. The new tribunal said that "there is not a scintilla of evidence" that Dr Roberts discriminated against Dr Anya. It said that "the simple truth" was that Dr Anya's rejection was because the white candidate was appointed on the grounds of his "ability and suitability". It found no inconsistencies in Dr Roberts's evidence and said it found him to be "a very believable witness".

The tribunal said the procedural breaches during the interview process did not materially affect Dr Anya. "We regard this as a non-adherence to procedures through sloppiness as opposed to any malevolent intention, although we do have to say that the departmental administrator at the time could have been expected to have been more focused on this issue."

The tribunal said it regarded the failure of the university to provide job specifications "as poor administration and indeed a matter of some seriousness". However, both candidates had the project documentation the day before the interview, it said. The failure to take up references, the tribunal said, "did not affect matters", as one of Dr Anya's referees was Dr Roberts, who "may not have given an overly favourable reference" anyway.

"We conclude that the non-adherence to parts of the university's equal opportunities policy, while being regrettable, did not play any significance in the overall theme of things in relation to the interview process. Particularly we would state that it was laxity as opposed to any intention to have a detrimental effect."

A spokesman for the university said: "The decision issued by the tribunal confirms that the university acted fairly and lawfully in its dealings with Dr Anya... The later Court of Appeal judgment did not dispute that, nor was it critical of the university, but merely remitted the matter for rehearing to a new tribunal on technical grounds.

"The university is committed to promoting equality of opportunity, and regularly reviews its policies and procedures... The equal opportunities team is exploring further ways to attract applications from suitably qualified staff from underrepresented groups."

Dr Anya, who now works in industry, declined to comment because he expects to appeal again.

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