Edinburgh University: Former professor awarded £50,000 after her life was "destroyed" when she alerted bosses to perceived sex discrimination

A former University of Edinburgh professor has been awarded £50,000 after her life was "destroyed" when she alerted bosses to perceived sex discrimination.

Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 3:23 pm

Professor Roya Sheikholeslami, 63, had a well-established career in chemical processing when she arrived in Scotland in 2007 but was unfairly dismissed in 2012.

The top uni has been told to pay her nearly £50,000 but the Iranian academic cannot work, access the NHS, or leave Scotland as she will not be allowed to return, and described her life as "an open prison".

Professor Sheikholeslami said her day-to-day life had become a massive challenge due to the mental health issues she suffers from following the decade-long ordeal and placed the blame with the university.

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A former University of Edinburgh professor has been awarded £50,000 after her life was "destroyed" when she alerted bosses to perceived sex discrimination
A former University of Edinburgh professor has been awarded £50,000 after her life was "destroyed" when she alerted bosses to perceived sex discrimination

She arrived in Scotland full of optimism about her new job in the School of Engineering, and on a on a start-up package of £948,000, of which £600,000 was to be spent developing a new laboratory.

But a delay of more than two years left her with no working lab, and in 2010 Professor Sheikholeslami was signed off work with work-related anxiety and depression.

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Only one other woman was working in the School of Engineering by that point and they became aware male academics believed female staff had been hired "because they were women, not because they were good enough", claiming it was "positive discrimination".

After raising the issue in April 2010 with the principal, Sir Timothy O'Shea, complaining she and a female colleague, Professor Andrea Schaefer, were "completely disabled in our employment due to gender discrimination", an internal review was carried out.

A diversity review stated: "The disparity and tone of this discussion and the apparent unanimity in the group indicated that there was a widespread view within the school that 'these women were appointed because they were women, not because they were good enough'."

An apology was issued, but Ms Sheikholeslami found she was shunned by colleagues, after an injunction was issued barring them from speaking to her unless it was through her lawyer.

A tribunal heard she was "sent to Coventry", and ostracised with "insiders" taking against her and she was "distrusted and disliked" following the complaint.

A long-running "impasse" then ensued, where the professor failed to attend occupational health and the university refused to let her return to work within a different department.

In April 2012 she was dismissed as her work permit was about to expire.

Professor Sheikholeslami said: "At the time that they sponsored and relocated me here, I was well established in my career.

"I was full of high hopes about my new job and new home but unfortunately it didn't work out as I thought it would.

"They punished me because I made a complaint.

"It has destroyed my health, my life, my career and my livelihood."

The tribunal found that she was victimised for raising her concerns, suffered disability discrimination and was unfairly dismissed.

It also criticised staff who gave evidence in the case, including Professor Lesley Yellowlees who "chose to be untruthful" about her role in dismissing Ms Sheikholeslami.

A further appeal is taking place.

A spokesman for the University of Edinburgh said: "This case is still being considered through the employment tribunal process, which has not yet concluded.

"It would not be appropriate for the University to comment."

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