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Buchanan dismissal unjustified, says ERA

Association of University Staff

Media Release

27 March 2008

Buchanan dismissal unjustified, says Employment Relations Authority

The Employment Relations Authority has ruled that the dismissal of Dr Paul Buchanan from the University of Auckland was unjustified and it has awarded him more than $65,000 in lost wages and compensation.

In the determination which was released yesterday, Authority member Vicki Campbell said that, while there was no doubt that there was misconduct on Dr Buchanan's part, it was unreasonable for the university to have escalated the matter to one of serious misconduct. She concluded that a fair and reasonable employer would not have dismissed Dr Buchanan for the reasons it did and the circumstances that then prevailed.

The university summarily sacked Dr Buchanan in July last year on the grounds of serious misconduct after sending what was described in the media as an angry email to a student, a United Arab Emirates national. In the email, which was widely reprinted, Dr Buchanan spoke bluntly of the student's very weak academic performance and lack of aptitude for graduate study and said that he did not believe her excuse for not delivering her final assignment on the due date.

In her determination, Ms Campbell said that Dr Buchanan's action had not amounted to serious misconduct and that suggestions made by Dr Buchanan which would have gone some way to ensuring that a similar situation did not recur were completely overlooked or ignored by the university.

The Authority has declined to reinstate Dr Buchanan, saying that it was not practicable for the university to employ him in a role where he has failed to demonstrate a fundamental awareness of how his own actions and conduct impact upon those he works with and teaches. Also taken into account were the publicly critical comments of the university made by Dr Buchanan following his dismissal. He was awarded $51,000 in lost wages and $15,000 for hurt and humiliation.

Association of University Staff deputy secretary, Marty Braithwaite, said that reinstatement was the primary remedy where unjustified dismissal had been established and the effect of dismissal on Dr Buchanan had been particularly profound.

"Given that the dismissal has effectively ended Dr Buchanan's academic career in New Zealand, we will be considering appealing that part of the decision," he said.


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