• Tuesday, April 23, 2024

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British Indian academic awarded £450,000 in discrimination claim against university

Dr Kajal Sharma won the case against Portsmouth University

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By: Pramod Thomas

A university has been ordered to compensate a British Asian academic with a minimum of £450,000 in damages following her victory in a racial discrimination lawsuit at a tribunal.

Portsmouth University was found to have been influenced by ‘pernicious and destructive’ unconscious bias when it failed to reappoint Dr Kajal Sharma.

The tribunal ordered the university to pay damages on 24 January.

Employment Judge Catherine Rayner, in awarding the compensation, emphasised that despite the discrimination not being deliberate, it still caused significant harm to Sharma.

The judge highlighted the insidious nature of unconscious bias and added the academic rightfully expected fairness and awareness of biases from senior academic members.

Following the tribunal’s determination that the selection process was marred by race discrimination, Sharma received a compensation of at least £450,000, with the potential for an additional £300,000 pending pension calculations.

Sharma was appointed to a five-year fixed term secondment as associate head for Organisational Studies and Human Resources Management at the university starting January 2016. She had the option to reapply to the post.

However, when she was overlooked for that position, she complained under the university’s grievance procedure in November 2020 that she had been discriminated against under the UK’s Equality Act 2010.

The 41-year-old was among just two senior lecturers at the institution who were not offered reappointment during a three-year period. Notably, she was the sole ethnic minority candidate seeking reappointment during this period, while 11 out of 12 white colleagues were all retained.

Despite participating in the selection process, Sharma was ultimately passed over in favour of Kerry Collier, a white British woman.

It was revealed that when Sharma’s contract was nearing its end, her manager neglected to inform her that her nearly five-year-held position was being advertised.

The hearing in the case, which took place in Southampton in October 2022, was also told about a series of related issues involving Sharma’s treatment during bereavement following the death of her father in India.

Her husband gave evidence to confirm that her line manager asked his wife to complete various tasks when informed about urgent travel plans to India.

In December 2022, an employment tribunal ruled that Sharma was discriminated against when overlooked for a role as a “visible” member of the university’s ethnic minority staff.

The tribunal expressed scepticism regarding Sharma’s line manager’s justification for favouring Collier’s candidacy over Sharma’s.

Fiona Hnatow, the chief people officer at Portsmouth University, told the tribunal, “On behalf of the university, I extend our apologies for the unlawful conduct and the resulting impact on Dr. Sharma and her family. There are no justifications for racial discrimination within the university, and we acknowledge and respect the tribunal’s ruling.”

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