Warden was unfairly dismissed despite aggressive text messages

A university warden who was dismissed after sending ‘aggressive text messages’ to colleagues has won his claim of unfair dismissal.

Dr Binoy Sobnack began working at Loughborough University in 1999 as a physics lecturer. He then added the role of warden at a students’ hall of residence.

One of the main duties as warden was ensuring a safe environment for the students to study and live.

In June 2018, Sobnak offended one of his volunteer sub-wardens, Mr Henry, by suggesting that if Mr Henry left his role would be the ‘best thing to happen to the hall’.

He was warned by head of student services, Dr Manual Alonso, that the comment was ‘entirely unnecessary and unprofessional’ but no further action was taken.

The following year another sub-warden named Chang complained after Sobnak accused her of changing her start date to avoid difficult duties. Sobnak sent a message in a group chat that could be seen by all the wardens in the team: “Why don’t you just listen????? Stick to what has been decided!”

Chang complained it was ‘inappropriate and humiliating in tone’.

An investigation was held by the university’s head of legal services, but she stated in her report that she had “not been able to identify sufficient evidence to support an allegation of bullying”.

Another incident occurred in October 2019 when Sobnak upset another sub-warden with his ‘aggressive and confrontational’ style of communication.

This time, a sub-warden named Ms Doma complained that Sobnak was trying to control her whereabouts, even when she was not on duty.

She also claimed he had insisted she check in on a particular vulnerable student out of working hours because she was the one who had built the best relationship with that individual.

Doma told Sobnak that she was only entitled to work up to 20 hours as part of her visa conditions. He responded by telling her to work over that limit but not record the excess on her time sheets.

Doma complained to the head of student services Dr Alonso, who felt the allegations against Sobnak were ‘strikingly similar’ to those he had heard before.

He invited Sobnak to a meeting in November 2019 and informed him he was being dismissed from his role.

Sobnak claimed the dismissal was unfair and took the case to the Employment Tribunal.

Judge Adkinson ruled in his favour, describing the decision to dismiss him as a “knee-jerk reaction”.

He added: “It never even occurred to Alonso that most of the allegations made by Mr Henry and Ms Chang were found not to be proven.”

He continued that the allegations by Ms Doma “were just that – allegations: there had not been so much as a beginning of an investigation to ascertain their veracity or accuracy”.

However, the compensation figure was reduced to £15,000 because it was considered that Sobnak’s “brusque, blunt and unnecessarily aggressive” tone amounted to “culpable and blameworthy conduct that contributed to everything that happened”.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law.

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