An academic who claimed she was unfairly sacked because of her “naturally loud voice” has been awarded £100,000 by an employment tribunal.
Dr Annette Plaut, who worked at the University of Exeter’s physics department for 29 years, was dismissed over the way she dealt with two PhD students.
At a tribunal, she alleged her dismissal was down to a combination of her eastern European Jewish heritage, which she said gave her “inherent characteristics” of loudness, and because she was a female.
She admitted she was “inherently loud”, “naturally argumentative” in conversation, spoke with much hand gesture and was so passionate about physics she became excited while engaged in the topic – but said there was nothing she could do about it since it was unconscious.
Dr Plaut said she told her students that was how she was, and that they should not take offence.
The senior lecturer, who was the first woman to join the university’s physics and astronomy department, also claimed she had long struggled against “unconscious bias” as a woman.
She was described during the tribunal in Exeter as a “Marmite” character, whose teaching style was liked by some students, while other students and staff found her “overbearing”.
Dr Plaut was suspended and then dismissed from her role following a disciplinary hearing in December 2019, which heard how she frequently shouted during meetings with a PhD student causing them “stress and anxiety”.
Exeter University argued the lecturer’s behaviour warranted dismissal, and that race and sex had nothing to do with it.
But the tribunal ruled Dr Plaut was unfairly dismissed and has now awarded her just under £101,000, The Guardian reports.
Her additional claims of racial and sex discrimination were dismissed by the panel.
The panel said: “Dr Plaut’s parents left Germany before the Second World War. This is a family experience which Dr Plaut feels deeply.
“Dr Plaut feels very strongly that her inherent characteristics include a stereotypical loudness and demonstrative and argumentative style of interpersonal discourse.
“Dr Plaut is passionate about physics. While she can try to restrain her natural personality, it tends to emerge when she becomes engaged in discussion about physics.
“Over the years some colleagues and some students have found this somewhat overbearing, despite Dr Plaut telling students and colleagues that she means nothing by it.
“There was a view amongst some senior members of the department that Dr Plaut had been allowed for years to get away with behaviour which should really not be tolerated.
“Others valued her contribution, and accepted that she was not an unpleasant person even when being loudly argumentative in discussion.”
A University of Exeter spokesperson said: “We continue to believe there are serious inaccuracies in these judgements and we are appealing the decision of the employment appeals tribunal.”
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