False race claim 'cruel'

2nd September 2005 at 01:00
A college manager has won a pound;65,000 settlement after her 23-year career was damaged by false allegations of racism and harassment.

Christine Ranson was subjected to two investigations and demoted by senior figures at Dudley college, despite the failure to find any evidence supporting the claims.

Although her job was at assistant principal level, she was forced to work on menial tasks with no access to a computer or phone.

An employment tribunal heard that she had never even been fully informed of the accusations. She learned there was a racial element only after she had already resigned in protest at her treatment.

The tribunal concluded that Mrs Ranson had been made the scapegoat for the college's failures on a work-based learning contract, even though others shared responsibility.

Mrs Ranson said: "It's been a shattering experience. It's something I never, ever dreamed would happen. I had a very, very successful career up to that point. To suddenly be accused of all sorts of things that I hadn't done was devastating.

"I am just so glad that I fought it and that I have been totally vindicated. It was the worst time in my life.

"One of the worst aspects of it was that I was isolated. When I was under investigation, I wasn't allowed to tell anybody what was happening. I had to try to pretend nothing was going on and work. It was incredibly upsetting and cruel."

Mrs Ranson had worked at Dudley college since 1980 as a lecturer in secretarial and business studies, before rising to the role of director of work-based learning.

Her troubles began when a new principal, Jeanne Harding, arrived in September 2003. Almost immediately, a colleague, Sanjeev Ohri, made the complaint about Mrs Ranson.

The tribunal concluded that Mr Ohri had been "getting his retaliation in first" and was distracting attention from concerns about his own performance.

No evidence was found that Mrs Ranson was guilty of racism or harassment, but she was demoted anyway. After she complained about the investigation, she was accused of incompetence and another inquiry was launched.

Under this pressure, Mrs Ranson fell ill from stress and took sick leave for three months.

When she returned, she found she had been removed from the senior management team and deprived of access to her office, computer and telephone.

The final straw was when the prospect of disciplinary action was raised after she took three days off as time in lieu.

Mrs Ranson, of Bridgnorth, Shropshire, was also threatened with disciplinary proceedings over the inquiry into her competence, although she had not seen the findings or been told what aspects of her work were unsatisfactory. She resigned the next day.

The tribunal said the college used its second investigation into Mrs Ranson to "intimidate and bully her and punish her" for complaining about the first.

Told that the tribunal was minded to award Mrs Ranson the maximum possible compensation of pound;55,000 plus costs, the college settled the claim for pound;65,000.

In a statement, the college said this "long, drawn-out and complex case" took place when the college was under pressure after a critical inspection report of work-based learning.

Jeanne Harding, principal of Dudley college, said: "While I feel the judgement was harsh, the case has clarified a number of issues within our personnel policies which we were already in the process of improving."

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