Had the conflict between Susanne Täuber and the UG been going on for years, before the situation escalated due to Täuber publishing a critical essay? Or was the UG deliberately trying to get rid of her because of her opinion?
That is what the Court of Appeal in Zwolle must find out, where the appeal between social safety expert Susanne Täuber and the UG was heard on Friday.
It became clear at the start of the trial that Täuber can still count on a lot of support. Supporters had come to Zwolle from all corners of the Netherlands and even Belgium to show their support. Täuber – who this week was recognised as an official whistleblower by the Dutch House of Whistleblowers – even received a small round of applause upon entering the courtroom.
‘No risk at all’
The demands were virtually the same as during the hearing of the case in the Groningen District Court. UG lawyer Damir Lacevic does not want a different ruling (dismissal), but appealed because he ‘did not want to take any risk. Täuber still wants to be restored to her position’.
But if that is not possible, she will demand fair compensation, her lawyer Ageeth Kootstra said. When she challenged her dismissal in March before the Groningen subdistrict court, she had had only one goal: to stop her dismissal.
Täuber was fired in May of this year, following a highly charged labour dispute with the UG. She claims she was systematically discriminated against and held back in her career. Although she reported it, it was not investigated by her superiors.
The situation escalated when she wrote a critical article in the Journal of Management Studies in May 2019. In it, she used her own experience as a Rosalind Franklin Fellow at the Faculty of Economics and Business (FEB) to critique the system. In the article, she showed how programmes designed to advance women can actually hinder them.
The article was not well received. Several professors called the piece inappropriate and harmful not only to the university but also to colleagues. The dean even sent an email to the journal asking it to retract the article.
Disrupted working relationship
Mediation failed and eventually the UG decided to fire her: the working relationship had been disrupted and there were no other positions available. The subdistrict court ruled in favour of the UG. Although the same judge also stated that Täuber’s superiors had played a large ‘if not decisive’ role in the escalation by the way they reacted to the JMS article.
In many ways, the appeal case was a repeat of what happened. However, Täuber’s lawyer did push harder on freedom of speech and academic freedom, which she said Täuber’s article falls under.
‘The judicial test then should not be limited to the national dismissal rules, but should also consider Article 10,’ she said. ‘Because dismissal has a chilling effect on free speech. It prevents or discourages people from exercising their right.’
The UG also allegedly deliberately worked toward dismissal and did not seriously consider reemployment options. Such behaviour, Kootstra argued, should not be rewarded.
She referred to the case of ROC teacher Paula van Maanen. She was fired for publishing a critical book on personalised learning. Her dismissal was earlier thrown out by the subdistrict court and last Thursday by the court of appeal.
But according to RUG lawyer Lacevic, the comparison with Van Maanen is not valid. In Täuber’s case, there was a mediation attempt, and she was even promoted, while Van Maanen was immediately suspended, he argued.
He portrayed Täuber as an unreliable partner, who failed to honour agreements and who had little regard for the consequences of her actions for others. The article in JMS was only a step in a process that had been going on for much longer.
In her closing remarks, Täuber defended her right to write what she wants. ‘You have to be able to debate and be critical at a university. People should be able to report and write critical pieces without being punished.’
Judgment will follow no later than January 8, 2024.