Mar 31, 2014

Former Queen Mary lecturer’s unfair dismissal claim rejected



A lecturer’s position was genuinely redundant even though an apparently equivalent position was advertised a short time later, an employment tribunal has ruled.

The issue was at the heart of former cell biology lecturer Fanis Missirlis’ unfair dismissal claim against Queen Mary University of London.

Dr Missirlis, who is now a research professor at Mexico’s National Polytechnic Institute, argued that Queen Mary’s advertisement of a new lectureship in cell and molecular biology just two weeks after his dismissal in 2012 undermined the university’s claim that his position had become redundant.

He argued that, in reality, he was dismissed because he allegedly fell below a metrics-based research performance assessment carried out by Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.

However, in dismissing his claim, the tribunal judges accept Queen Mary’s argument that the areas of research expertise required for the new lectureship were different from those of Dr Missirlis and that, besides, he would not have met the research output and quality criteria for the new post.

They say in their judgement that since the purpose of the school’s reorganisation was to improve its research ranking, it needed “more academics whose research output and quality [were] ‘high’ when measured by recognised external metrics and fewer whose output and quality [were] low. This…inevitably involved considerations of performance but…was not based on the consideration of individual capability in the first instance but the requirements of the school as a whole.

“Performance management [by contrast] is a process addressing an individual’s weakness either as a means of improving them or dismissing the employee.”

Addressing Dr Missirlis’ observation that his eventual replacement had published fewer papers than him, the judges say that since the replacement is a former postdoctoral fellow taking up his first lectureship, he was “not a true comparator”.

The judges also dismiss Dr Missirlis’ claim that the redundancy selection criteria were designed to target critics of the school’s management, such as himself. They note that several other “potential ‘troublemakers’” remained employed. They conclude that the selection criteria were fair in both conception and application.

Although Dr Missirlis was the only member of staff compulsorily dismissed, the judges note that another eight left the school having signed settlement or compromise agreements.
 

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