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Lecturer loses dismissal appeal in ‘scandalous conduct’ case

Posted: 18th December 2019   In: Business Employment, Individual Employment

A university lecturer who faced allegations of “scandalous conduct” after starting a relationship with a student has lost his appeal against unfair dismissal.

The case involved J Dronsfield, who was an academic at Reading University.

Under the terms of his contract, he could be dismissed for "good cause" which included "conduct of an immoral, scandalous or disgraceful nature incompatible with the duties of the office or employment".

In addition, the university had a policy on staff and student personal relationships which stated that such relationships were discouraged, but if a relationship formed, the staff member should report it to their head of department.


Three allegations were made against Dronsfield:

  1. that he had a sexual relationship with a student without reporting it, contrary to the university's policy, thereby creating a potential conflict of interest
  2. that he had abused a position of power to influence a vulnerable student to enter into a personal relationship
  3. that he had acted in breach of his duty of care towards students.
Dronsfield admitted having sex with a student and subsequently marking her dissertation and continuing to act as her supervisor.

He also accepted that he had not reported the relationship. A disciplinary panel concluded that all three allegations were proven, and that dismissal was the appropriate sanction.

A preliminary appeal panel upheld that outcome but found only the first and third allegations proven. It later emerged that the investigation report had been amended on legal advice. The report had originally stated that although Dronsfield had a sexual relationship with a student, there was "no evidence to suggest that the conduct constituted conduct of an immoral, scandalous or disgraceful nature".

That sentence, and other findings favourable to Dronsfield, were removed from the final report on the basis that such conclusions should be left to the disciplinary panel. The decision of the preliminary appeal panel was later confirmed.

Dronsfield’s claim for unfair dismissal was rejected by the Employment Tribunal so he appealed, saying that the tribunal had failed to address his submissions as to why his dismissal was unfair, particularly regarding the reasons for the amendment of the investigation report.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal also ruled against him.

It held that the tribunal plainly considered that the findings of guilt on charges one and three had been upheld for sustainable reasons, and that Dronsfield's behaviour amounted to conduct of an immoral, scandalous or disgraceful nature. The alterations to the report had not rendered the dismissal unfair.

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

Posted by: David Rushmere
Luton Office