Racial Discrimination Case against Queen Mary University Dismissed

Racial Discrimination Case against Queen Mary University Dismissed

Dr Hackley, a former academic member of staff at Queen Mary University of London, took the university to the East London Employment Tribunal for direct racial and gender discrimination and harassment as a continuing act in 2019. Dr Hackley, of Thai and Chinese ethnicities, was a BAME academic staff and Lecturer in Marketing within the School of Business and Management. Having joined Queen Mary since August 2012, Dr Hackley informed the tribunal that there was “a climate of racism at Queen Mary” that had normalised discriminatory behaviour towards ethnic minority staff. On Wednesday 29th January 2020, the judge decided to dismiss the case despite evidence Dr Hackley provided. 

It was a last-minute but worthwhile decision when on Tuesday 28th January of 2020, I decided to attend the final hearing for Dr Hackley’s case. Interestingly, she had been representing herself throughout the hearings. Surrounded by a small group of supporters made up of teachers, academics, journalists and students, Dr Hackley was waiting outside the courtroom. Despite it being the first time we met, she greeted me warmly and embraced me with a hug. Emotions hung heavy as we piled into the courtroom waiting for her to give her closing statement. 

Dr Hackley has been within the UK Higher Education sector for 16 years, having previously worked at respected institutions including Durham University and the University of Surrey as a Lecturer in Marketing. It was in August 2012, that she joined Queen Mary University as a Lecturer. Although she was assured that she would be a candidate for early promotion, this expectation was toppled during her 6 years at the university. 

Despite Queen Mary’s reputation for diversity and inclusivity, Dr Hackley stated that it was an environment where incidents of racism from staff and students alike were not dealt with adequately. The expectation of a proactive response against racial discrimination from the university seemed to be more of a marketed fallacy than a practical reality:

Dr Hackley’s applications for promotions were rejected in 2013, 2015 and 2018. Between September 2013 to March 2014, Dr Hackley was on maternity leave. In 2015, she submitted a flexible working application as she had a young child to care for. This was ignored. In early 2017, her application to an external Readership in Marketing post was not shortlisted. Instead, one white male candidate was interviewed and appointed.  This candidate was a friend and associate of the Head of Marketing Department.  The lack of progress led her to concede that she had no future prospect of being treated fairly at the university. 

Dr Hackley further reported of being in an environment where she was not treated as an equal to her white colleagues. This was highlighted by the dismissal of her status as a researcher by her senior white colleagues. She recalled from the book Inside the Ivory Tower: Narratives of Women of Colour Surviving and thriving in British Academia that the authors had concluded that BAME staff were not viewed as capable of owning intellectual works and were not recognised for their intellectual contributions. This was reflected in the disapproval that Dr Hackley was met with when she co-authored publications with her husband; it was cited as a reason for not promoting her despite this standard not being subjected to other white female colleagues who had co-authored with their partners or husbands. 

Furthermore, she described an incident where a senior white colleague claimed that he was an expert on Dr Hackley’s research area of Southeast Asian consumer culture, and he judged her work to be too weak to justify promotion. In fact, he was not in any sense an expert and indeed had never published in Dr Hackley’s research areas. This attitude would not have been inflicted upon a white colleague. Another colleague commented on her lack of presence at work-based social activities and meetings as part of the reason for being rejected in a promotion.

The issues that Dr Hackley has brought up during the tribunal are part of a much wider problem at the university. The results of an independent staff survey at Queen Mary carried out by Capita in 2019 showed that in some departments such as Humanities and Social Sciences as few as 14% of BAME employees agreed that “If I reported an incident of discrimination or harassment I am confident that it would be taken seriously”. In the gender pay gap report of 2019, the mean pay gap between BAME and non-BAME female staff was 20.4 % whilst between BAME and non-BAME male staff it was 31%.  

Dr Hackley’s case occurred in the wake of Queen Mary’s Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Sandra Brown’s resignation in 2019. Brown had written an email to the Principal of the university, Professor Colin Bailey, stating that she was resigning because of Queen Mary’s institutional racism. The email was printed and put up all over the campus, exposing the culture of racism and bullying that is rampant at the university. Other BAME employees in the School of Business and Management had also raised grievances regarding incidents of racism. Dr Hackley’s former colleague Dr Bakre also had his racial discrimination case at the same tribunal in August 2018. He also resigned in 2019.

At the heart of Dr Hackley’s decision to pursue the case was her daughter. She states in the closing statement of her hearing: “I have pursued the case because of the principles at stake for me personally and for my former BAME colleagues at Queen Mary. I also hope that this case might contribute to a better understanding of racial discrimination in the sector for the sake of younger people in the future, including my daughter who is mixed race. I hope I might help to make the world a better place for her. By the time she attends a university, the Higher Education sector might be a better environment for BAME students and staff”. 

As the hearing came to a close, Dr Hackley turned to speak to the small gathering of supporters at the back. She thanked us for the support and urged us to “be brave, believe in what is right and keep fighting. This is the least I can do for you. Thank you for supporting me.”  The next day, I was informed that the judge had decided to dismiss the case. However, we still have the power to spread awareness about her case. Let’s not let her efforts die in vain. 

I had the opportunity to interview Dr Hackley about her feelings and experiences regarding the case. The interview will be coming out later this month.