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Former college lecturer wins compensation for unfair dismissal

A former lecturer at a London college has won compensation for unfair dismissal but her “bloody-minded” attitude contributed to her downfall, according to an employment tribunal.

Yeong-Ah Soh was a probationary lecturer in materials science at Imperial College London before being dismissed in January 2012 for gross misconduct.

A report by Times Higher Education revealed the university ruled she acted in poor faith in alleging that a colleague, David McPhail, a reader in surface analysis, had told students what would be in their exam.

The allegation was made during a probation review meeting in which Dr Soh was asked to explain her extremely low student feedback scores.

She claimed they were the result of her refusal to spoon-feed her students, as she alleged Dr McPhail – who received very high feedback scores – did.

Dr McPhail had claimed in a previous review meeting that a lecture of hers he had observed was among the worst he had ever seen.

After hearings in March, the tribunal has ruled that the university should have considered the possibility that – as the judges believe – Dr Soh had made the allegation in good faith.

The panel noted that no reasonable employer would have deemed her to have committed gross misconduct but also said that her inconsiderate behaviour had created hostility towards her.

“She does not seem to have considered…how her demands and delays related to the requirements or convenience of others,” says the judgement.

“Casual and isolated lack of consideration is not perverse, foolish or bloody-minded, but when it is so thoroughgoing and repeated it is.”

For this reason, the amount of compensation that Dr Soh will receive – to be decided in July – will be reduced by 20 per cent.

The compensation level will also reflect the tribunal’s view that there was a 30 per cent chance Dr Soh would not have passed her probation.

Other claims, including for race discrimination and dismissal for whistleblowing, were dismissed by the tribunal but Dr Soh told Times Higher Education she would appeal against those elements of the judgment.

Welcoming the unfair dismissal ruling, Dr Soh denied contributing to her downfall and said she would have passed her probation since only two academics in the past five years had failed to do so.

“A career that was built over such a long training period of 16 years was destroyed by simply setting the level of my course too high and raising a concern in a private setting about the exam practice of a colleague,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Imperial welcomed the tribunal’s rejection of Dr Soh’s allegations of discrimination, harassment and victimisation and its recognition that her “conduct contributed to her dismissal”.

“Formal action against a member of staff is a last resort and is taken only after a period of thorough investigation,” she said.

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