Professor wins £15,000 for employers failure in carrying out a proper investigation
Overview of the case:
- Professor Shaung Cang was accused of ‘modern day slavery’ offences by two students.
- Northumbria University reported the allegations to the police who dropped the case. Despite this, the University dismissed Professor Cang on the grounds of gross misconduct.
- Professor Cang won £14,884 for her claim of wrongful dismissal, £2,234 for accrued unpaid annual leave and £30.34 for unpaid expenses.
Professor Shuang Cang had been employed by Northumbria University (the ‘University’) from 1 February 2018, until she was summarily dismissed on 28 Janaury 2019. Professor Cang’s claim was for (i) direct and indirect discrimination resulting in dismissal and other detriment and harassment contrary to the Equality Act 2010 based on race, (ii) breach of contract and (iii) compensation for untaken annual leave.
Professor Cang was dismissed after two students alleged that the Professor had forced them in to:
- Spending 12 hours cutting trees in her garden;
- Moving heavy furniture;
- Disposing of her rubbish;
- Paying for meals and goods;
- Painting rooms; and
- Cleaning her home.
The University investigated the matters internally and also reported the allegations to the police. During the investigations, Professor Cang denied the allegations, claiming they were exaggerated and part of a collaborated attack against her.
The University decided to go forward with holding the disciplinary hearing and dismissed Professor Cang on 28 January 2019, without waiting for an update from the police. The police dropped the investigation against Professor Cang on 29 January 2019.
During the hearing, the Tribunal heard how the students feared they would not be awarded their doctorates if they did not comply with demands and how the alleged treatment was described as a ‘consistent pattern of controlling and dominating behaviour’.
Employment Judge Tudor Garnon (EJ Garnon), said he could not be sure if the allegations were true and criticised university academics Professor John Wilson for his investigation and Professor John Woodward for the disciplinary hearing he chaired.
EJ Garnon held that there were ‘huge gaps in the questioning of the students and areas of their evidence which needed to be investigated further to look for real corroboration or the lack of it’.
It was clear from the evidence provided at court that the Professors had ‘formed their views on impresssions…and the upset the students appeared to have felt’, rather than conducting a thorough investigation into the serious allegations of Professor Cang.
EJ Garnon added, ‘What Professor Cang accepted she had done was no different to the way she had behaved at Bournemouth for years and in accordance with a culture she and the students adopted and practised without complaint, not only in China but in the UK’.
‘While we respect Professor Woodward’s view she should have known better, she did not see herself as having done anything fundamentally wrong’. Although it was not wise of Professor Cang, it did not amount to gross misconduct.
EJ Garnon found that Professor Cang’s wrongful dismissal claim, succeeded, based on the fact that ‘she had not acted in wilful disregard of her obligations’ and should have received her 3 months’ notice pay. Her reason for dismissal did not amount to gross misconduct.
Her claims for discrimination and harassment based on race failed. However, her claim for wrongful dismissal and unlawful deductions from pay succeeded.
A stark warning for employers, to ensure that investigations are thoroughly carried out before disciplining an employee. You should not base your decisions off impressions. Decisions as to disciplinary action should only be taken once all the necessary evidence has been gathered. It is not worth cutting corners, as it could land you with a £15,000 pay out for something that could have been done in the first instance.
19th January 2022