Lecturer wins record damages for racism

22nd November 2002 at 00:00
MORAY COLLEGE in Elgin, which has just begun to emerge from financial and management difficulties under its previous principal, has suffered the embarrassment of being branded racist by an employment tribunal.

But the tribunal did not find that the college was "institutionally racist" and a spokesperson said it was considering whether to appeal against the judgment.

The damning and unanimous indictment was delivered following a 10-day hearing in Aberdeen. The tribunal ordered the college to pay Mohammed Halim pound;14,000 after the lecturer argued that he was the victim of racism since he failed to make the shortlist for two management jobs.

It also said the college must pay a legal bill of almost pound;40,000.

The decision has been hailed as a landmark in employment law in Scotland, and marks the largest cash award made to a victim of race discrimination.

The finding comes as colleges come under increasing pressure to ensure they comply with the new race relations legislation, which requires them not just to ensure they do not have discriminatory practices but take active steps to prevent racist behaviour.

Dr Halim was the only non-white lecturer at Moray and he told the tribunal he had been the victim of racist abuse since he started in 1996, and was overlooked twice for promotion because of his race.

In June, he was forced to apply for a job as a pound;24,000-a-year lecturer after his position as department head disappeared in a cost-cutting exercise.

Dr Halim, who has a first-class honours degree and a PhD in engineering, claimed he was further discriminated against when he applied for two high-flying jobs advertised internally. One was a pound;36,000-a-year post as assistant principal, for which he said he was rejected without interview.

He then applied to be the college's European development officer, which carried a salary of pound;32,000. Fluent in five languages, he already had experience placing foreign students from Africa into UK and European universities, and carried out similar work in Elgin. But he was not included on the shortlist from three candidates. Only one was chosen and secured the job.

Dr Halim, aged 41, had taught at the college for more than six years, and previously at a university in Botswana. He is a graduate of Manchester University.

During the hearing he told the three members of the panel: "The principal, his deputy and assistant are all racist. The assistant principal has been a racist for years, that is how he has been treating me. You have no idea what it is like as a non-white to go through this procedure in an all-white community."

The tribunal did not endorse the allegation that the three individuals named by Dr Hakim were racist and the college's response to the findings pinned the blame on "certain procedural matters and matters of process which it needs to tighten up on, which led to the finding in Dr Halim's favour, and these will be dealt with".

In his evidence to the tribunal Jim Logan, the principal, described the breakdown with Dr Halim as "an end of term spat". But the tribunal retorted: "By no stretch of the imagination could this be categorised as just an end of term spat. This was a genuine, extremely serious complaint."

Mike Melville of Grampian Race Equality Council, who represented Dr Halim, said the award was the highest for racial discrimination in Scotland. "The tribunal has found for Dr Halim on both counts of discrimination on grounds of his race," Mr Melville said. "This is the largest award on such grounds; the previous high was pound;4,900.

"Only 7 per cent of race discrimination cases are successful in the UK, and this decision was arrived at very quickly. To me that speaks volumes."

Dr Halim said: "I am very glad it is over and that I have been vindicated. This was never about money, it was about a fundamental right."

A college spokesperson said: "Having given initial consideration to the written report of the employment tribunal, the college is extremely disappointed by the decision. We are discussing with our lawyers our concerns and may well appeal against the judgment."

The college welcomes the tribunal's view that Dr Halim was unlikely to have been successful in obtaining either post had he been interviewed.

Mystery magazines

Bizarrely, within hours of the ruling police arrived at Mohammed Halim's house acting on a complaint that he had stolen a pile of engineering magazines from the college five years ago.

Nothing was found, and a police spokesman said: "We have spoken to Dr Halim, and will not be taking any action over the complaint from the college."

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