One of Britain's top academic institutions in effect destroyed the career of a brilliant university lecturer after she suffered a miscarriage, an employment tribunal has found.
The London School of Economics was judged yesterday to have sexually discriminated against Dr Helen Mercer, who claimed she was overlooked for a job after losing her baby. Dr Mercer, 43, of London, was given a glowing report of her work as a lecturer in business history when her contract was reviewed in October 1997.
But just four months later, after she had suffered themiscarriage, Dr Mercer was rejected when she applied for a permanent post. The job went to a less qualified, and younger, male candidate. "The decision effectively ended my academic career. I felt robbed," said Dr Mercer, who has a seven-year-old daughter. Concerns over whether she would break her career in future to have children were at the root of the discrimination, she alleged.
Dr Mercer took her claim to the London tribunal, which ruled in her favour, finding the LSE guilty of direct and indirect discrimination. The tribunal will decide next month on the level of any compensation.
Dr Mercer joined the LSE in 1995 on a three-year contract after teaching at schools and colleges, and writing a highly acclaimed book on business history. The LSE professor who reviewed her work in 1997 had said: "Helen's performance has exceeded our best expectations... I wish therefore to make a strong, positive recommendation that Helen Mercer should pass her departmental review."
Just a few months later the same professor was part of an interview panel that started to question Dr Mercer's suitability for a permanent job.
When she asked why she had not been given the job she was told the other candidate would be better able to contribute to the next funding assessment of the LSE, Dr Mercer recalled. She said this was "astonishing" as her book had helped her department obtain a five-star rating, the highest possible, during the previous assessment.
The Equal Opportunities Commission, which backed Dr Mercer, said the decision sent a message to universities.
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