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Thursday, 13 April, 2000, 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK
Top college guilty of sex bias
Dr Helen Mercer
Dr Helen Mercer says she feels her career has been "robbed"
One of the country's most prestigious academic institutions has been found guilty of sex discrimination after "ending" the career of a lecturer who suffered a miscarriage.

The London School of Economics (LSE) was found to have directly and indirectly discriminated against Dr Helen Mercer, 43, who told an employment tribunal in London she was rejected for a job four months after her miscarriage.

Universities wanting high ratings see women ... as a risk, despite their teaching ability and experience

Dr Helen Mercer
The tribunal will decide next month on the level of any compensation but Dr Mercer said she felt her career had been "robbed", despite winning her case.

The ruling follows a recent report which accused universities of breaking equal pay laws, and unions said Dr Mercer's case pointed to wider problems in sex equality throughout higher education.

Concerns over whether Dr Mercer, from London, would break her career in future to have children were at the root of discrimination against her, she alleged at the tribunal.

We are seeking legal advice on whether to appeal against both decisions

LSE spokesman
She had joined the LSE in 1995 on a three-year contract after teaching at schools and colleges, including Leeds University, and writing a highly acclaimed book on business history.

But despite a review of her performance which rated her a "substantial asset" to the department, Dr Mercer's application for a permanent post saw her overlooked in favour of a younger and less qualified male applicant.

"The decision effectively ended my academic career. I felt robbed," said Dr Mercer, who has a seven-year-old daughter.

LSE may appeal

She was told the other candidate would be better able to contribute to the next funding assessment of the LSE, Dr Mercer recalled.

But she said this was "astonishing" as her book had helped her department obtain a five-star rating, the highest possible, during the previous assessment.

After the ruling she said: "Universities wanting high ratings see women, especially those of a child-bearing age, as a risk, despite their teaching ability and experience.

"Winning this case reassures me that I was right to question their decision and the assumption that women have less to offer."

But an LSE spokesman said: "We are seeking legal advice on whether to appeal against both decisions, just the direct discrimination decision or just the indirect discrimination decision.

"It is too early to comment on whether we accept either decision."

Degrees of discrimination

The LSE branch of the Association of University Teachers, which supported Dr Mercer throughout, praised her willingness to go all the way with the case.

"Dr Mercer is a brave woman', said Sally Hunt, AUT assistant general secretary.

But she added: "This not an isolated case. We know discrimination like this runs throughout higher education, but Helen was prepared to suffer the ordeal of putting her life and career under the spotlight to prove an injustice."

Julie Mellor, chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, said: "Women make up 51% of higher education staff but only one in four senior staff are women and only 35% of academic staff are women.

"Women are also clustered at the low end of university pay scales as illustrated in recent research on universities and discrimination."

Earlier this month university and college lecturers' union Natfhe released figures which it said showed women academics were being paid up to 8,000 less than men doing the same jobs in the same subjects.

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04 Apr 00 | Education
Universities 'break equal pay laws'
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