‘Loud’ academic wins case after dismissal for shouting
An academic has won an employment tribunal after being sacked for being “unnaturally loud”. She successfully argued that she couldn’t help the volume of her voice.
Physicist Dr Annette Plaut was sacked by Exeter University in 2019 after bosses said she shouted too much. The lecturer, who spent 29 years at the university, admitted she was “inherently loud” and “naturally argumentative”, but said she was so passionate about physics she could not restrain herself from bubbling with excitement.
Dr Plaut, whose parents moved from Germany before the Second World War, joined the physics and astronomy department in 1990. In 2019, after being accused of shouting at a student, she was suspended and then sacked. In a letter giving her a written warning, the university “accepted that Dr Plaut’s loudness was largely unintentional, but expressed concern at her apparent inability to moderate it.”
She argued at the tribunal in Exeter that her Eastern European Jewish heritage meant she had “a conversational style that involves an argumentative style of discussion involving interruption, and much hand movement”. In its judgment, the tribunal said: “There was a view among some senior members of the department that Dr Plaut had been allowed for years to get away with behaviour which should really not be tolerated. Others valued her contribution, and accepted that she was not an unpleasant person even when being loudly argumentative in discussion.”
Dr Plaut’s claims of racial and sex discrimination were dismissed, however, employment judge Paul Housego found the university guilty of harassment, victimisation, unfair dismissal, and criticised the treatment of an academic of such long-standing. “This is a very large organisation, of very high reputation, and high professional standards in dealing with the careers of its academics are to be expected,” he said. “This obligation is the greater when dealing with someone who has spent 30 years working for them. Senior management had decided that Dr Plaut would not be tolerated further. The good things she had done over the years were given no weight.”
Further comment was made, “The tribunal does not doubt but for some people, Dr Plaut’s approach to life was highly uncomfortable, but that fails to appreciate that this is a façade behind which the evidence is of a long-serving dedicated and caring academic.”