Lecturer awarded £90k after three years of ‘turmoil’ following unfair dismissal

Employment tribunal finds college discriminated against lecturer's disability in redundancy process

Employment tribunal finds college discriminated against lecturer's disability in redundancy process

21 Apr 2023, 10:00

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A long-serving lecturer has won £90,000 after a college was found to have discriminated against his disability and forced him into redundancy.

Bournemouth and Poole College must pay the compensation to Richard Phillips after he was unfairly dismissed following 25 years of service.

Phillips, who taught English and functional skills, said he had lost the career he loved after three years of “turmoil”.

At the end of an employment tribunal in June last year, Bournemouth and Poole College conceded that it had failed to make a reasonable adjustment to the redundancy process that led to Phillips’ departure.

The tribunal and subsequent remedy hearing held in January heard that Phillips had type 2 diabetes, diagnosed in 2017, and experienced anxiety and depression which predated his redundancy. An agreement to reduce his contract hours to 0.8 full-time equivalent had been agreed in September 2016, with stress cited as the reason in his application.

He was given notice of redundancy at the end of April 2019, working part of his notice with the remainder paid in lieu.

The tribunal report said that the college’s failure to offer a suitable alternative vacancy was also discriminatory.

Last summer’s original employment tribunal, held in Southampton, heard that a matrix scoring system had been used by the college as part of its efforts to determine who should be made redundant from a pool of nine teachers, with two-and-a-half posts being lost.

But Phillips’ absence over five months in 2018 for depression and anxiety meant he was not allocated any score in one part of the scoring matrix because a “PsR” had not been completed during his absence, meaning he had been “treated unfavourably for a reason rising from disability” in the scoring and selection process.

Had it been completed, the report said his score would have been 16 points higher, which would not have put him among the bottom two teachers.

The tribunal report said that “the respondent [the college] would have had a duty to make reasonable adjustments, if it had the requisite knowledge of the claimant’s [Phillips’] disability and he was likely to be placed at the disadvantage referred to”.

Suitable alternative employment could have been found when another English teacher, who had also been in the pool for redundancy selection, resigned after his notice of redundancy but before his dismissal, leaving a full-time vacancy which Phillips could have been offered, the tribunal heard.

Following the remedy ruling, Phillips told FE Week of the “turmoil” of the past three years. He said he had taken a stand against being discriminated against and unfairly dismissed following an unblemished 25-year record and good results.

“In 25 years, I had undergone numerous redundancy procedures; they hang over lecturers’ heads like an annual guillotine. To realise, however, the hand securing the blade is less than reliable is more than concerning,” he said.

“I’ve lost the career I loved through no fault of my own; my health has suffered considerably and possibly irrevocably; and the taxpayer has also paid dearly for solicitors and a barrister to defend the college’s unfair dismissal and disability discrimination against me. There are no winners here.”

The report by employment judge Catherine Rayner said it was agreed that “for the claimant, the stress of being selected for redundancy, having to challenge his selection through the employment tribunal and having to search for new employment were things that flowed inevitably from the fact that the claimant had been discriminated against by the respondent”.

It continued that “whilst we have not found that anyone’s actions were consciously or deliberately discriminatory, we have found a persistent lack of care for Mr Phillips and what happened to him, coupled with a disinterest in ensuring a full and fair process and a total failure to address at all the question of disability despite the claimant raising it with the respondent”.

However, the judge acknowledged that, while the college’s actions had had a negative impact on Phillips’ mental health, the college did not cause the illness.

The remedy hearing heard that Phillips had begun part-time work with the police in November 2019 following his redundancy but had not been able to continue after a few months because of his health. He subsequently worked as a private tutor.

The remedy hearing report said that the college’s liability for loss of earnings ended in September 2020, as from that point on Phillips would have been able to find teaching work to mitigate his losses.

The payout includes more than £52,000 for loss of pension, just under £17,000 for loss of earnings between August 28, 2019, and September 1, 2020, £14,000 for injury to feelings, £4,200 interest on the award and £2,735.79 interest on his loss of earnings.

The college had argued that, while entitled to an award for injury to feelings, much of Phillips’ distress was as a result of his pre-existing health conditions. However Phillips said he had suffered significant episodes of poor health as a result of the redundancy and subsequent employment tribunal.

A spokesperson for the college said: “As is the case for all organisations, unfortunately we periodically need to undertake redundancy exercises as we shape our organisation to meet changing needs and reflect changes in income. We have learned from the specific aspects relating to Mr Phillips’ redundancy and would like to wish him all the best for the future.”

The spokesperson added that there were “not any significant concerns in relation to the college’s finances with regard to the amount awarded”.

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