University to Appeal $1.2m Unlawful Dismissal Compensation Awarded to Former Professor

Published September 23, 2019 (last updated July 17, 2020) -
Male Professor Speaking To Auditorium Of Students

James Cook University is appealing a decision to compensate a professor after he was found to be unlawfully sacked for questioning the university’s climate science.

According to an ABC report, court documents revealed that the professor had described his colleague in an email as “not having any clue about the weather”, and that he “will give the normal doom science about the Great Barrier Reef.”

In another email presented as evidence, the professor criticised his employer James Cook University along with other universities, as being “Orwellian in nature.”

However, the university at the time defended the sacking of Dr Ridd as having nothing to do with his criticisms of the university or questioning of the science of climate change or the decline of the Great Barrier Reef, but rather the manner in which he made his arguments.

He was subsequently charged with the sackable offence of “serious misconduct” last August.

Following his dismissal, Dr Ridd initiated a challenge of his dismissal in the Federal Circuit Court, with support from crowd funding and the Institute of Public Affairs, an advocate of climate change skepticism.

In his judgment in April this year, Federal Circuit Court Judge Salvatore Vasta found Dr Ridd’s termination was unlawful, as the university’s enterprise agreement protected his comments over and above the university’s code of conduct. He found that all 17 findings used by the university to justify the sacking were unlawful.

In delivering his judgement, Judge Vasta said Dr Ridd was entitled to freely speak and write without fear of retribution from his employer, saying the university had clearly, “not understood the whole concept of intellectual freedom.”

“That is why intellectual freedom is so important,” he said.

“It allows academics to express their opinions without fear of reprisals. It allows a Charles Darwin to break free of the constraints of creationism. It allows an Albert Einstein to break free of the constraints of Newtonian physics. It allows the human race to question conventional wisdom in the never-ending search for knowledge and truth. And that, at its core, is what higher learning is about.

“To suggest otherwise is to ignore why universities were created and why critically focussed academics remain central to all that university teaching claims to offer,” he said.

Judge Vasta made a provisional order for the payment of compensation to Dr Ridd amounting to more than $1.2 million.

News reports claim the landmark case has already cost more than $1 million in legal fees, with the university forking out more than $600,000 while Dr Ridd and his wife have spent $200,000 of their money to fight the decision, in addition to $260,000 raised by his supporters and crowd funding efforts.

Now, the university has hired one of Australia’s top barristers to appeal that decision and continue maintaining they acted legally when sacking Dr Ridd.

A James Cook University spokesman confirmed to The Australian that the university had lodged the appeal.

“The notice of appeal reflects the university’s position on what the university considers to be errors of law in the judgments,” the spokesman said.

There will be a case management hearing in Brisbane this Friday.

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