Scottish university head in retirement row

Professor disputes contract after staff e-mail announcement

A senior academic at Abertay University may be one of the first to test the laws surrounding the abolition of forced retirement, after he rejected claims by his employer that he had retired.

Professor Bernard King, principal of Abertay University, denied he had retired after an e-mail was sent to staff announcing the news.

The university said that King had been notified of his impending retirement in December last year, after his 65th birthday, well ahead of the 6 April 2011 deadline for forced retirements. Abertay insist that King’s retirement was due to start on 1st July.

However, the professor, who was suspended earlier this year after a row about whether to extend his employment contract, has alleged his employer discriminated against him because of his age.

In a statement from his solicitors, King said he had “not accepted” the email referring to his retirement and that he has started employment tribunal proceedings.

The statement said: “His position is that he has not retired and he remains in dispute with the university over the terms of an extension of contract agreed with the university last year.

“The principal’s claims of age discrimination and whistle-blowing in relation to actions taken to address allegations of bullying and intimidation of members of staff remain the subject of employment tribunal proceedings which will take place later this year.”

The solicitors handling the case have advised him that the university’s current actions were “both unfair and unlawful”.

However, Geoffrey Mead, partner at law firm Eversheds, told PM: “If the employer issued the dismissal notice before the April 6 deadline and the person has reached the age of 65 by the September deadline this year then that dismissal is not unlawful.

“Compulsory retirement of employees [before the abolition deadline], if employers follow the correct procedures, is lawful and the forced retirement would still stand. If he is simply saying that this is age discrimination I can’t see how he will succeed.”

Mead explained that King can “only make a request to stay on” after a compulsory retirement notice, which the employer can still refuse.

An Abertay University spokesman said: “Our position remains that Professor King’s retirement took effect on Friday 1 July and that we will not comment on current unresolved issues relating to his former employment.

“However, we would like to make it clear that Professor King was first given notice of his retirement date in early December, and the university has sent further correspondence since that date about various aspects of his retirement.

“The latest statement – which we only heard about through the media – is the first intimation we have had of Professor King’s clarification of his position relative to his retirement. We welcome the commitment made by his lawyers to the desirability of continued negotiation so as to avoid further legal proceedings.”

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