THE Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, has won a significant victory in his ongoing dispute with the college.
Dean Percy was suspended in 2018 after a dispute over governance and pay: he was accused by the ruling group in the college of “immoral, scandalous, and disgraceful behaviour” (News, 5 November 2018). He was completely exonerated the following year (News, 23 August 2019), but, because of a pending employment tribunal over his treatment, the college authorities have continued to exclude him from many of his duties. He is both Dean of the Cathedral and Head of House.
The present dispute was whether Dean Percy was an employee of the college, and therefore able to bring an action against it of disability and religious discrimination. The college argued before Judge Andrew Clarke QC last month that the Dean was, instead, “an office holder without a contract”, and that the ancient statutes governing his post and duties did not amount to employment.
Judge Clarke disagreed. Drawing on case law, he ruled that the absence of a contract was immaterial. Nor was it significant that the Dean might be regarded as an office-holder. “An office holder can be in an employment relationship with an alleged employer.”
It was this relationship that mattered. The Dean, he said, was not “an independent provider of services. He is integral to the respondent’s [the college] organisation and is expected to provide a wide range of work on a full-time basis.”
The Dean was supported by the legal team of the Unite union, as well as his own legal advisers, and represented by the barrister Sarah Fraser-Butlin.
The ruling means that the college is answerable for its treatment of Dean Percy. The dispute will now go to a full employment tribunal in autumn 2021, although the college said this week that it hoped that the matter could be resolved through mediation.