A tribunal has found that Loughborough University “unfairly dismissed” former Harry French Warden, Binoy Sobnack, from his post.

Dr Sobnack, who remains a Physics lecturer until the end of the year, was accused of three offences during his time at the university by three different sub-wardens – all of which came in the last 2 years of his employment.

Judge Adkinson found that whilst Dr Sobnack, who has been teaching at Loughborough since 1999, was “unnecessarily aggressive” in his tone towards a sub-warden, the University did not reflect on the fact that most of the allegations against him were “found not to be proven” when making their decision to fire the Harry French Warden.

Dr Sobnack has since been awarded almost £15,000 in payouts from the University as compensation.

Three Complaints

The first complaint, from July 2018, claimed that Dr Sobnack told one sub-warden that his departure would be “the best thing to happen to the Hall”.

A second in March 2019 claimed that he sent “aggressive text messages”, one of which – in response to a sub-warden announcing a delay to her start date – read “why don’t you listen?????? Stick to what has been decided!”.

In the complaint, the second sub-warden told the University that “it was inappropriate in tone to use so many question marks”.

The University, however, was unable to find “sufficient evidence to support an allegation of bullying and harassment” in their investigation, and the case was dropped.

Harry French Quad during Freshers
Harry French Hall. Photo by Jazz Jefferies

A third, “strikingly similar” complaint in October 2019 claimed that the Harry French Warden’s “behaviour and communication style was aggressive and confrontational” in a series of messages and interactions with a new sub-warden.

“Unfair Dismissal”

Whilst both previous complaints had resulted in no formal action, the third was responded to in a different manner by University Director of Student Services, Manuel Alonso.

Dr Alonso, in receiving the third complaint, felt that the messages sent were “indicative of unprofessional behaviour by Mr Sobnack”, which resulted in him believing he no longer had “any trust and confidence in Mr Sobnack being able to discharge the duties as Warden.”

However, in his decision, Judge Adkinson decided that “most of the allegations … were found not to be proven”, that the complainant might have been at fault too, and that the the disciplinary process set out in his wardenship contact had not been considered, resulting in a case of “unfair dismissal” by the University.

The Judge did, however, agree that his “unnecessarily aggressive” tone did still make Dr Sobnack guilty of “culpable and blameworthy” conduct, and had contributed to his dismissal.

A University spokesperson told Label in response that “the University does not dismiss people for poor punctuation.

“This case centred around concerns from a number of sub-wardens (who were also students) of inappropriate treatment by a halls of residence warden, and the University acted accordingly.”

Hazlerigg Building
Loughborough University’s Hazlerigg Building. Photo by Christopher Leroux

“Closed mind”

The report was particularly damning of the University’s Director of Student Services, Manuel Alonso, who the Judge claimed acted with ‘flawed logic’ in dismissing the Harry French Warden.

Dr Sobnack, a former Loughborough Experience Award Nominee, believed that Dr Alonso “sought to standardise services across the Halls of Residence and to remove their individuality”, and was described by Dr Sobnack as “seeking to micromanage the Hall wardens.”

The Judge said that as soon as “he was aware of the complaint, Dr Alonso decided that he was going to dismiss Mr Sobnack from his role of warden. It was a firm decision”, adding that the “main factor” to the dismissal was “Dr Alonso’s closed mind”.

The Judge concluded that “no reasonable employer would have gone from [the third] complaint (which was mere allegations) to deciding on receipt of the complaint instantly that all trust and confidence had gone and the employment must end, especially in view of the lack of any previous disciplinary matters.”

Dr Alonso admitted at the tribunal that “an investigation would not have changed the fact he had lost trust in Mr Sobnack carrying out his warden role”, although no evidence of any ulterior motive was found.

Pro Vice-Chancellor for Teaching, Professor Rachel Thomson, also reviewed the case at the time, and upheld Dr Alonso’s decision to dismiss Dr Sobnack.

The Judge argued that “no reasonable employer … would have dismissed there and then”, and that the University should have started a disciplinary process to investigate and establish the facts.



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