Portsmouth University loses discrimination case against Indian lecturer | Higher education

A university has been found to have racially discriminated against an Indian lecturer after it failed to appoint her to a job she had held for five years, replacing her with a white candidate with no experience in the role.

Dr Kajal Sharma was one of only two senior lecturers at the University of Portsmouth who were not appointed to their jobs when their contracts expired, while 11 of 12 white colleagues succeeded, an employment tribunal heard.

In a damning judgment, the court ruled that Sharma was the victim of subconscious discrimination and described the selection process as “tainted by racial discrimination”.

The fact that she was not reappointed to her job was “extraordinary” and should have raised questions. “Instead, the fact that a senior member of academic staff who was a BAME woman was not reappointed to a post was ignored by the university.”

The hearing in Southampton heard that Mr Sharma started his job as assistant head of organizational studies and people management at the business and law faculty at the University of Portsmouth on a five-year contract at the start of 2016.

She told the tribunal she had a “difficult” relationship with her manager, Dr Gary Rees, and complained about the way she had been treated on a number of occasions. In one example, she said he had asked her to do university work immediately after her father’s death and did not adequately support her while she cared for her critically ill son.

The tribunal was also told that Rees actively encouraged a white colleague to pursue an additional qualification but failed to support Sharma when she suggested she could do the same.

When her contract was almost up for renewal, she was not notified that her job was advertised. Sharma re-applied for the position and made it to the final shortlist of two, but after appearing before a panel, which included Rees, she lost out to a rival candidate he supported.

In a subsequent Freedom of Information request to the university, Sharma discovered that 12 senior academic management vacancies had arisen since 2018, where the incumbent had re-applied for the position, and of these, 11 were re-appointed. All 12 were white. She was the only BAME candidate who had reapplied for their post and was unsuccessful.

The ruling in Sharma’s favor found that Rees had treated Sharma “in a way which we considered was different to the way he would have treated others, in areas such as support over the death of her father and her child’s illness”.

“We conclude that his involvement in the recruitment process and his subconscious bias mean that the failure to recruit the claimant was an act of racial discrimination.” A hearing to determine compensation will take place at a later date.

Attempts were made to contact both Rees and Sharma. A university spokesperson said: “There are no excuses for racial discrimination at the University of Portsmouth. The University recognizes the strength of the Labor Court ruling in this case and expects every member of our community to uphold the University’s values, without exception.

“The university is carefully examining the ruling and cannot comment further while the litigation continues.”

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