Oxford technician 'was shunned by male staff'

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Male staff at Oxford University snubbed the only woman in their department by refusing to allow her to sit with them during coffee breaks, an employment tribunal was told yesterday.

Angela Carr, an IT support administrator to the physics department's academics, is claiming sex discrimination against the university.

Mrs Carr, 56, told the employment tribunal at Reading that her male colleagues shunned her, believing a woman could not do the job as well as a man. She singled out one, Terry Hastings, saying he would not discuss technical matters with her, choosing instead to make small talk "about bread making" and the like.

She added that he had also told her to sit with women clerical workers at coffee breaks instead of with him and the rest of the physics computing team. Mrs Carr said she believed that, because of her gender, she was being overlooked for training courses and that her salary was not increased.

The tribunal heard that matters became worse when she was moved to a new office that had been a former laboratory. She said she had trouble breathing in the room and told her employers she believed chemicals were leaking. Despite having to take weeks off work because of sickness she was informed that the area was safe, the tribunal heard.

Mrs Carr, who was appointed on a three-year contract by Dr Ian McArthur, who became her supervisor, described how she was told by a fellow member of the department that she had made history by not having her contract renewed.

"I think that my boss was simply irritated by the additional work he had faced as a result of my being off ill and the complaints I was making about the room," she told the panel.

"I also believe that he had simply tried working with a woman and had decided that he preferred working with an all-male team. He may have considered there was less hassle for him in an all-male team.

"I also felt isolated as I was treated differently from my colleagues. Some of the men were very rude and I was very aware that their salaries were £5,000 to £8,000 below mine. The building was full of female administration staff. However, they did not challenge male egos, where[as] I think I made many of my male colleagues feel less competent - not by my manner but my gender."

When she complained about her contract not being renewed, Mrs Carr was told that funding had run out for her £25,000-a-year job.

The tribunal heard that Mrs Carr, who had had a similar job at Derby University, complained of sore lungs and stinging eyes and that the bones in her arms hurt after she moved to her new offices.

"I learnt that I had been placed in an industrial environment and I thought that these health problems may have been down to this," she said. "Although I notified the departmental health and safety officer, nothing was done at first and after a week I had become so ill that my doctor signed me off, stating pollution as a possible cause."

The case continues today.