Judge slams Southampton University as lawyers didn’t come to case

Judge slams ‘inept’ Southampton University after lawyers failed to turn up at discrimination tribunal because they didn’t check their emails as he awards economist £3.5million

  • Southampton University’s legal team branded ‘inept’ and ‘an embarrassment’
  • Staff failed to counter economist Richard Werner’s claims at a tribunal 
  • Accused institution of discriminating against him being German and Christian

A university ordered to pay almost £3.5million to a distinguished economist after failing to turn up at the court case has been branded an ‘embarrassment’ by a judge.

The legal team at Southampton University were called ‘inept’ by judge Mark Emerton for failing to counter Richard Werner’s claims at an employment tribunal.

It meant the judge awarded the professor the maximum sum possible after he accused his university of discriminating against him for being German and Christian.

A judge branded the University ‘inept’ after its lawyers failed to turn up to an employment tribunal. Economist Richard Werner (pictured) was claiming the institution had discriminated against him for being Christian and German

However, despite his criticism Judge Emerton this week ordered a new tribunal to allow the university to present its case.

It did not appear at the 90-minute hearing on June 5 to defend itself after missing a number of emails relating to the case. Its legal department only became aware it had lost the case when a journalist contacted them for a comment two days later.

At another hearing two days ago, Judge Emerton described the blunders as an ‘embarrassing sequence of events’ and said officials had ‘clearly lost the plot’.

‘The legal office of the university conducted itself in a way that fell far below what one would expect of a Russell Group university staffed by a group of legal professionals,’ he said.

‘The university was faced with what was an extraordinary claim in which the claimant was asking for well in excess of £4million and making serious allegations about senior staff.

‘Plainly, this was a claim that one would always want to resist. It makes it all the more surprising there was no attempt to provide a response. To put it colloquially, they clearly lost the plot.’

Professor Werner, 52, claimed he was ‘bullied’ between 2010 and 2018 – being denied leave requests and promotion

Professor Werner, 52, who spent 14 years at Southampton, claimed he was victimised in a ‘harassment and bullying’ campaign between 2010 and 2018 – being denied leave requests and promotion. The professor said he was not allowed to take a sabbatical to work on a book despite colleagues being given this right. ‘I was discriminated against for my religion, belief and race as a German,’ he told the hearing.

Professor Werner, who resigned from the university a year ago, coined the term quantitative easing, the policy used by the Bank of England in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

Awarding him almost £3.5million in damages, Judge Emerton said he would have got less if the university’s legal department attended court because it would have contested some of the claims. The sum includes tax payments of almost £1million, which means Professor Werner will be left with around £2.5million.

In a statement at this week’s hearing, Barbara Halliday, the university’s head of legal services, apologised to the court and Mr Werner, and said the university believed the June hearing was simply to discuss the management of the case.

However, Miss Halliday had missed a number of emails relating to the dispute and said the case was a ‘huge embarrassment for both me professionally and the university’.

She said in the statement: ‘This occurred at a time when the department was very busy and under staffing pressures.’

Edward Capewell, representing the university, said Professor Werner should not be entitled to keep his ‘colossal windfall’ because of administration errors.

Judge Emerton sided with the university and ordered a new tribunal to hear its evidence.

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