A senior academic who claimed she was sacked because her bosses could not tolerate her “naturally loud” voice and passionate teaching style has won her case for unfair dismissal.
Dr Annette Plaut, who had worked as a physicist at Exeter University for 30 years, was described as a “Marmite character” during the tribunal, valued by many but considered “overbearing” by others.
The university argued during the tribunal that she was dismissed over the way she dealt with two PhD students, but Plaut claimed she was the victim of race and sex discrimination.
In its judgment, the tribunal said: “The race discrimination claim is based on her eastern European Jewish heritage, which she says gives her inherent characteristics (in the way she interacts with people) which she says were the reasons for the way she dealt with her students.
“She says that as a woman she was discriminated against as physics has long been male-dominated, and she says that a man would not have been treated so. The university says that Dr Plaut’s behaviour warranted dismissal, and that race and sex had nothing to do with it.”
Plaut was the first woman in the department and claimed she had long struggled against unconscious bias, the tribunal heard.
She said her heritage meant that she was naturally loud, her body language was demonstrative and her conversational style was naturally argumentative. She compared this to people of Mediterranean heritage.
Plaut claimed that she became loud when she became excited or engaged in a topic, and as she was passionate about physics that often happened. She told her students that was how she was, and they should not take offence.
The university said it was much more balanced in gender terms than when Plaut joined. There was great diversity in the academic staff, many of whom had Mediterranean backgrounds, and Plaut’s assertion that she was treated unfairly because of “similar interpersonal characteristics” was incorrect.
It said she was perceived to shout at students and colleagues and none of this was to do with her being female or Jewish.
The tribunal concluded: “Senior management had decided that Dr Plaut would not be tolerated further. The good things she had done over the years were given no weight.”
The tribunal ruled Plaut was unfairly dismissed and claims of victimisation and harassment in respect of her suspension on 11 April 2019 succeeded.
The tribunal did not find that claims of race discrimination and sex discrimination were made out, except for one, that of harassment by suspending her for making a comment at her return to work meeting on 3 April 2019.
Exeter University has been approached for comment.