The Employment Tribunal has awarded a leading economist and lecturer £2.5 million as part of a discrimination claim against the University of Southampton. Richard Werner, who worked as a professor for the university from 2004 to 2018 and is known for coining the term ‘quantitative easing’, has claimed that he was the victim of a “harassment and bullying” campaign between 2010 and 2018 which began after he suggested changes to what he deemed to be “broken procedures”.
He states that there was a string of incidents including requests for annual leave being declined, not being awarded promotion opportunities, and a sabbatical request to work on a book being turned down despite other professors having similar requests granted.

Mr Werner then resigned from his post in July 2018, and saying that he has lost access to emails from his 14 years of service following a number of investigations held into him by the university after he left. He also claimed that he should be given the title of Emeritus Professor.

As a result of these incidents, Mr Werner claimed that he was discriminated against both for his Christian faith and German nationality. In ruling that his claims for unfair dismissal, racial discrimination, religious discrimination and failure to pay a worker were all proved, Judge Emerton explained that the extraordinarily high level of compensation awarded was because the university failed to turn up to the tribunal to defend the claims. This was described as an astonishing failure to engage, as if the university had sent representatives to the 90-minute hearing held little more than a mile from its campus, the award would have been greatly reduced.

The University of Southampton rejected all claims made by Mr Werner, and is carrying out an internal investigation into the reasons why it failed to contest his claims, as well as starting legal proceedings to challenge the judgement.

This case reminds us of the importance to take claims brought by former employees seriously, even if they are baseless. A substantial part of the discussions around how to approach a case, centre around reputation management; given that the employee had worked for the university for 14 years, dealing with the case in this way is certainly damaging from a public relations point of view.
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