In a recent case, an Indian lecturer is said to have faced racial discrimination at the University of Portsmouth when she was replaced for a job. The lecturer claims that she had been doing this role for five years, but on re-applying the role was given to a less experienced, white candidate.
What Exactly Happened?
Dr Kajal Sharma worked as a lecturer at the University of Portsmouth. In 2015/16 she applied for a fixed-term role within the university as an Associate Head for Organisational Studies and Human Resources Management. This was a 5-year role for which she was a successful candidate. Dr Sharma began the role on 14th January 2016 which meant the term ended in December 2020.
In 2020, the role was internally advertised for which she applied and was interviewed. Other than her, there was one more person who applied for the position—Mrs Kerry Collier, a white British woman. Despite being highly qualified for the job, Dr Sharma was seen as a top candidate by just one panel member. The second panel member and another professor, Gary Rees, preferred Mrs Collier for the post.
After not receiving the role, Dr Sharma asked for feedback on why she wasn’t selected but did not receive any. She asked for information on how many people in senior roles like Heads of Departments were reappointed. Additionally, she wanted to know how many of them were female BAME candidates. As a response, she was told that 11 out of 12 people were reappointed in their senior roles. However, all those roles were held by white candidates. In fact, she was the only BAME candidate who was at a senior level and re-applied for a role.
This led to Dr Sharma filing a complaint stating that she faced discrimination based on her race. According to her, she did not get the role because Professor Rees treated her less favourably. Moreover, she raised another complaint against Mrs Collier stating that she was being racially victimised.
Dr Sharma believed that Professor Rees treated her less favourably because of various incidents, one of which was when Dr Sharma’s father passed away. Despite knowing that Dr Sharma was on bereavement leave and that her father had passed away, she was asked to complete work for him.
Moreover, in another incident when Dr Sharma needed support for her ill baby, she was not given any support by Professor Rees. This was problematic because he offered similar support to other white colleagues.
What The Employment Tribunal Said
To begin with, the Employment Tribunal found that Professor Reed has been unfair and unsupportive of Dr Sharma on many occasions. Starting with the incident with her father, Professor Rees was made aware of the situation and why she had to travel urgently. The tribunal finds that Professor Rees had asked Dr Sharma about her work during a difficult period in her life instead of telling her to forget about work like most line managers.
This situation was compared to when another member of staff needed bereavement leave, and Professor Rees was understanding of the situation. It was an accurate way to show how differently Professor Rees was behaving with Dr Sharma. In addition, the ET preferred Dr Sharma’s statement and the evidence presented by her as it was more detailed, while Professor Rees was finding it hard to recollect information.
In terms of the time when Dr Sharma’s baby was unwell, Professor Rees did not make any effort to engage with Dr Sharma. This was unlike his character with other staff members as he is known to help colleagues and discuss personal matters with them. The fact that he could not do the same with Dr Sharma was seen as like discrimination.
For these reasons and many more, the ET believed there was a degree of subconscious discrimination on behalf of Professor Rees. This discrimination was mainly because of race and colour as he was known to be very supportive of white colleagues. Keep in mind, this is not to disregard that Mrs Collier didn’t have skills for the role, but it is important to remember she was not as experienced as Dr Sharma who had been doing the role for five years.
Read more about the case here