Academic wins appeal on forced harassment training

An academic has successfully challenged the University of Oxford insisting he undergo “diversity training” after being cleared of sexual harassment.

Dr Oleg Iourin, a structural biology researcher at the University since 1994, has been engaged in a dispute with his employer for seven years.

In 2016 he allegedly tried to kiss a female colleague, which Dr Iourin explained as “a bit clumsy” in an apology note he left for her after the incident.

The University’s grievance committee concluded there was “a degree of remorse and embarrassment” supporting his explanation and thus his character was deemed “not likely to be aggressive”.

Despite finding that there was no harassment, the University still forced Dr Iourin to take part in ​​“equality and diversity” training.

In 2018 Iourin sued the University for their actions, calling them “humiliating and insulting” and alleging sex discrimination and victimisation. He called himself a victim of “outrageous feminine complaints”.

A lengthy employment tribunal in 2020 supported the University’s decision, saying it was justified in order to make sure he would not “misinterpret” physical contact in the future.

However, High Court judge Mathew Gullick KC has now held that this conclusion was mistakenly based on the belief Dr Iourin had been found guilty of harassment when the case came before the second Employment Appeal Tribunal on 24th August.

This “fundamental factual error” means the case has been sent back to be reheard by the lower tribunal, with the added hope to resolve the matter without “further litigation”.

The disability discrimination issue was dismissed, but sex discrimination and victimisation claims remain to be addressed by the new tribunal.

However, Judge Gullick recommended that both parties “give serious consideration to whether it is possible to resolve their outstanding differences… without recourse to further litigation.” He noted that Iourin’s continued employment at the University and the reduced claims mean that their current dispute is “much less extensive” than it was in 2020.