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‘Loud’ educational awarded greater than £100,000 for unfair dismissal | College of Exeter

January 19, 2023
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A senior academic who says she was sacked from her post in a university’s physics department because of her loud voice has been awarded more than £100,000 after winning a claim for unfair dismissal.

Dr Annette Plaut told the Guardian she had a “naturally loud voice” that came from her middle European Jewish background and claimed it was the combination of her being “female and loud” that had led to her dismissal from the University of Exeter.

Plaut, who had worked at the physics department for 29 years, accused the university of being “institutionally unconsciously biased” and said she was taking medication for stress brought on by her former employer’s treatment of her.

During a tribunal last year, Plaut was described as a “Marmite” character, valued by many but considered “overbearing” by others who disliked her “boisterous” style. The university argued during the tribunal that she had been dismissed over the way she dealt with two PhD students and insists it had nothing to do with her background or her sex.

Dr Annette Plaut

Speaking on Monday after the university was ordered to pay her just under £101,000, Plaut said: “I have a naturally loud voice. As such I have no ability to sense when I am speaking loudly.

“The loud voice comes from my family background and is a perfectly normal and acceptable way to speak amongst people of middle and eastern European Jewish background. In New York or Germany where I have lived and worked for years at a time, the loudness of my voice was never mentioned even once.

“Only in Exeter have I been put under pressure to change this inherent characteristic that is fundamentally integral to me and who I am. I believe that it is the combination of being female and loud that some senior members of the university and HR [human resources] persist in condemning, as this combination contradicts their stereotypical assumptions of how a woman should behave.

“I have been consistently treated unfairly by the university over decades to the extent that I was targeted for dismissal, and that that targeting was tainted by sex, in a male-orientated department, and race as it was unconscious bias against my inherent characteristics, which were an integral part of my race.”

Both Plaut’s parents were born into Jewish families in Germany and fled to the UK as children. Her maternal grandfather was interned in a concentration camp while her paternal grandfather went into hiding.

Plaut, 59, joined the university in 1990 as the first female academic in the physics department. She said: “I enjoyed my job – I liked teaching and was especially keen on experimental physics research in a laboratory that I had built up over the years from scratch.”

She was twice suspended before she was dismissed and was told she could not speak to fellow workers or students while she was being investigated, leaving her feel humiliated and isolated.

Plaut said she still felt anxiety, particularly as the university has said it will appeal against the tribunal’s decision. “I have never previously ever suffered from any mental health condition. I still continue to take daily medication to reduce my ongoing stress.”

She said she would have liked to get her job back but the tribunal’s remedy judgment concluded that this was not practical as there was “entrenched bias against Dr Plaut in the human resources department and in the senior echelons of the university”.

The judgment added: “Her life was centred on the university where she had worked for 30 years. Her social circle was almost totally linked to the university. Academics customarily retain access to university email accounts and facilities even when retired. All this is removed from her by her unfair dismissal.”

The remedy judgment said it was “difficult to imagine the depth of humiliation, hurt, stress and worry” for Plaut after she was suspended, adding: “Every aspect of her life and future was at risk, and for no good reason, and unfairly.”

Plaut said she had spoken out not out of any vindictiveness towards the university but as an attempt to prevent anyone else in future being similarly mistreated.

A University of Exeter spokesperson said: “We continue to believe there are serious inaccuracies in these judgments and we are appealing the decision to the employment appeals tribunal.”

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