A university has been found to have discriminated against an Indian lecturer on the grounds of race after it failed to reappoint her for a job she had been doing for five years, replacing her with a white candidate with no experience of the role.
Dr Kajal Sharma was one of only two senior lecturers at the University of Portsmouth who were not reappointed to their jobs when their contract came to an end, while 11 out of 12 white colleagues were successful, an employment tribunal heard.
In a damning judgment, the tribunal ruled that Sharma was the victim of subconscious discrimination and described the selection process as being “tainted by race 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 the academic staff who was a BAME woman was not reappointed to a post was ignored by the university.”
The hearing in Southampton heard that Sharma began her job as associate head for organisational studies and human resources management in 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 in the immediate aftermath of her father’s death and failed to support her adequately while she was caring 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 might do the same.
Then when her contract was almost up for renewal, she was not alerted to the fact that her job had been advertised. Sharma reapplied for the post and made it on 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 academic senior management vacancies had arisen since 2018 in which the incumbent had reapplied for the post, and of those 11 were reappointed. All 12 were white. She was the only BAME candidate who had reapplied for their post and been unsuccessful.
Ruling in Sharma’s favour, the tribunal judgment found Rees had treated Sharma “in a way that we considered was different to the way he would have treated others, in areas such as support over her father’s death, and her child’s illness.
“We conclude that his involvement in the recruitment process and his subconscious bias means that the failure to recruit the claimant was an act of race discrimination.”
A hearing to decide on 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 race discrimination at the University of Portsmouth. The university recognises the strength of the ruling by the employment tribunal in this case and expects every member of our community to uphold the university’s values, without exception.
“The university is examining the ruling carefully and cannot comment further while the legal case continues.”