Economist sues Cambridge University saying it retracted job offer

Economist sues Cambridge University saying it retracted job offer

July 19, 2021

Economist sues Cambridge University saying it retracted job offer because he believes ‘big banks are a cancer on society’

  • Professor Richard Werner applied for a job at Cambridge in January 2018
  • But after being offered the job he was told it had been withdrawn in September
  • He claims it was taken back due to his beliefs and his Christianity religion
  • Prof Werner holds the view that ‘big banks are a cancer on society’ 

An economist is suing the University of Cambridge after it retracted a job offer, claiming it was over his belief ‘big banks are a cancer on society’.

Professor Richard Werner, world-renowned for his research and work in economic theory, applied for a job at Cambridge in January 2018.

But after being offered the job he was told it had been withdrawn that September.

Prof Werner claims he discovered there had been conversations regarding ‘reputational issues’ about his appointment and concerns over his ‘unorthodox views’.

He has now filed an employment tribunal claim for discrimination, believing he was refused the job due to his beliefs and his Christianity.

The full case will be heard later this year following a preliminary hearing at which a judge ruled Prof Werner’s view ‘big banks are a cancer on society’ qualified as ‘a philosophical belief’, in the same way as a religion.

Prof Werner says his offer of employment was withdrawn due to Cambridge’s objection to this belief.

At the preliminary hearing, Judge Isabel Manley concluded the economist’s belief was ‘genuinely held’, ‘more than an opinion’, ‘weighty and substantial’, ‘has a level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance’, and was ‘worthy of respect in our democratic society’.

Professer Richard Werner, economist, is suing the University of Cambridge after it retracted a job offer, claiming he was discriminated against due to his belief that ‘big banks are a cancer’

Prof Werner was at Southampton when he applied for the post of director at the Cambridge

The judge added: ‘Having weighed all these matters up I am satisfied that that the belief that ‘big banks are a cancer on society’ can amount to a philosophical belief and a tribunal can now consider whether [Prof Werner] can show facts from which they could conclude that the action taken was because of that philosophical belief.’

Prof Werner made his name when he came up with ‘quantitative easing’ while serving as economic adviser to the Bank of Japan and the Ministry of Finance in Tokyo in 1995.

He then hit headlines in 2019 when he resigned from the University of Southampton and sued the Russell Group institution, claiming he was discriminated against for being German and Christian.

He was awarded more than £2.5million in that case by a Southampton employment tribunal when the university’s lawyers failed to attend, but after they realised their mistake they appealed and the original judgement was set aside. A full tribunal on that matter is due to be heard later this year.

Prof Werner had been working at Southampton when he applied for the post of Director at the Cambridge Centre of Housing and Planning Research (CCHPR)

The application form which he submitted was very lengthy and included either extracts or a summary of many of his writings.

Following this, Prof Werner was interviewed in May 2018 by six professors and, after some discussion, in June he was made a conditional offer for the agreed start date of ‘no later than 1 October 2018’.

He was awarded more than £2.5million by the University of Southampton after a tribunal

It was said Cambridge’s offer was conditional upon ‘references which it regards as satisfactory’ as well as passing any probationary period and documents showing the right to work in the UK.

There were then further discussions between Prof Werner and Professor Colin Lizieri, the Head of the Department of Land Economy.

The tribunal heard there were some concerns about funding for the CCHPR and also some concerns about the direction in which the university believed Prof Werner might take the centre.

An email dated 29 August 2018 was shown to the tribunal which had been disclosed to Prof Werner. He claimed it showed the university had concerns that ‘might indicate discriminatory motives’.

One potentially relevant important part of this reads: ‘There are other reputational issues as it has emerged that he has some unorthodox views (these did not emerge in the CV or in academic searches, nor in his references) that, had we known about them, we would probably not have made the offer – given that it was a somewhat leftfield appointment, albeit the consensus of the interview panel.’

The tribunal heard Prof Werner had written accepting the offer on 2 August 2018 and met again with Prof Lizieri. Various discussions ensued on a number of issues relating to the post.

But on 14 September 2018, Professor Lizieri wrote to say he was ‘not satisfied that we have reached agreement on a number of issues’ and the university was ‘no longer in a position to proceed with the appointment and are therefore withdrawing the offer of employment’.

Prof Werner, who had left Southampton University after 14 years, brought the new tribunal claim on 24 January 2019. The 53 year old currently works at De Montfort University in Leicester.

The preliminary hearing was told Prof Werner’s assertion about big banks being a cancer on society was a ‘shorthand’ for a longer philosophical belief which is linked to his religion but is also a ‘world view’ shared by the likes of the former Bank of England Governor, Lord Mervyn King, Sir Vince Cable and Lord Adair Turner.

He added: ‘As banking systems get more and more concentrated, their allocation powers increase, while accountability decreases.

‘Fewer people have more and more power. Also, more and more individuals and small firms are cut out from bank funding: big banks prefer to focus on big deals with big customers and automated computer systems and call centres leave an increasing number of individuals and small firms without good banking services.

‘Big customers are increasingly non-bank financial institutions such as private equity funds, hedge funds and other financial sector firms

and those borrowing from banks for asset purchases.’

Judge Manley described the matter as ‘a challenging case to determine’ but added: ‘[Prof Werner] is passionate about this and has written extensively about it.

‘It is clearly thought out and based on an assessment of data. I accept that it is more than a scientific based belief and it has some connection to the claimant’s wider view of the world encompassed in his Christianity.

‘As for whether the stated belief is about a ‘weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour’, I accept that, given the central importance the banking system has on everyone’s lives, the 2008 crash alone indicating such importance, it is indeed weighty and substantial.

‘I do not consider that it is only relevant to that particular area, namely banking.’

A date is to be set for the full hearing.

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