Oxford University reinstates Irish professor Paul Ewart following landmark age discrimination case

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A physics professor from Belfast has been reinstated to his job at Oxford University after winning a landmark age discrimination case.

aul Ewart (72) was head of atomic and laser physics at Oxford University, but was forced to step down due to a controversial policy forcing staff to step down before they turn 70.

He has now been awarded £30,000 (€33,207.63) in compensation and reinstated as a senior lecturer, although only intends to stay on for one more year.

Oxford University was not obliged, however, to scrap its retirement policy which was introduced to make way for younger staff.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Professor Ewart – a former student at Queen’s University Belfast – said he will continue a legal battle to change the rules for the benefit of other colleagues.

Oxford University is appealing a ruling from the Employment Tribunal that the policy is unlawful, which will be heard next year.

The tribunal found: “There can hardly be a greater discriminatory effect in the employment field than being dismissed simply because you hold a particular protected characteristic.”

It also said the university had failed to justify its policy.

Professor Ewart said: “It’s important for others that I carry this battle on.

“I really wasn’t doing it just for me. I’ve got what I wanted but I’m doing it for some of my colleagues who are engaged in very important work and should have the lawful right to keep working until they choose to retire.”

Given one more year to continue in his role, Professor Ewart said he would be working with colleagues who had developed his previous research.

This includes work on building a new efficient engine and chemical processes that can be used to convert carbon dioxide to fuel as well as plastic waste to hydrogen.

“This is being carried on by my colleague Professor Edwards in chemistry, but he will be forced to retire next year unless this decision is overturned,” he said.

“If he’s forced to retire this work will come to an end and it’s really very important that the research carries on.”

Professor Ewart had previously spent £5,000 of his own money to obtain records which showed the “trivial” impact the policy actually had in recruiting younger staff.

“I think it’s very difficult to get institutions to change their mind, they’re very loathe to admit they made a mistake.”

“So I feel they’ll only listen to the court. If we win the appeal I hope they will look again at the policy and understand it’s not achieving the ends they claim.

“That’s the argument that allowed me to win my case.”

He continued: “It means a lot to be reinstated, it means I can determine the point at which I leave Oxford and pass the work onto someone else.”

With the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, most of his work is currently being carried out from home.

“Everyone is affected by the pandemic regulations, so I can only go into my laboratory about one day a week until the restrictions are lifted.

“Getting to come back is a step in the right direction, but the more general issue has to be resolved and I hope it will be for the sake of my colleagues.”

Belfast Telegraph

Source: Irish News