An Oxford University professor who claimed he was fired for accusing a renowned professor of stealing his work was unsuccessful in his claim of unjust dismissal.
Amin Moghaddam, a senior scientist, said that the professor in charge of the lab he worked in had engaged in “author misconduct” in a “planned strategy to steal my ideas and work,” according to testimony given before a tribunal.
In response to his complaints, the director of the pathology department allegedly informed him that he was lucky because, in the words of Sir Isaac Newton, he “stood on the shoulder of giants.”
Dr. Moghaddam said his route to a higher position inside the lab had not been “fully supported” and that he had not received the “credit he was due.”
His job came to an end in March 2019 after he was unable to acquire more financing, and his relationship with his supervisor, Professor Quentin Sattentau, soured as a result of his accusations of plagiarism.
The University of Oxford was then sued by Dr. Moghaddam in an employment tribunal on grounds of unjust dismissal, racial and disability discrimination, and whistleblowing.
However, Dr. Moghaddam has now lost his legal struggle and had all of his claims rejected. The tribunal found that he had not been treated unjustly and that his contract had not been renewed because there was no financing for it.
Dr. Moghaddam, an Iranian native, worked at the university as a senior postdoctoral scientist under Prof. Sattentau from May 2003 to the end of March 2019, according to testimony presented in the tribunal, which was held in Reading, Berks.
Professor of Immunology and internationally recognised expert in expanding knowledge of HIV pathogenesis and vaccine development, Prof. Sattentau has spent the last 20 years working at Oxford University.
Dr. Moghaddam worked at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology on a number of “fixed term” contracts that had “various periods.”
The tribunal heard testimony that Dr. Moghaddam’s contract was extended until March 31, 2019, as a consequence of Prof. Sattentau’s leadership in 2015 securing financing via a successful research project.
The panel learned that he began to protest about the professor’s “scientific misconduct” in September 2018.
When Dr. Moghaddam’s work on peanut allergy was published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in 2014, Prof. Sattentau listed himself as the senior author, which Dr. Moghaddam found objectionable.
The tribunal was informed that he then charged the professor with “violating academic authoring norms.”
Dr. Moghaddam requested greater autonomy and wanted to be recognised as an independent researcher, but he was informed that as a member of another Principle Investigator’s (PI) team, he was unable to do so.
In February 2018, when Dr. Moghaddam’s contract year came to an end, he recommended to Prof. Sattentau that they submit a grant proposal. However, Prof. Sattentau told him that it was department policy for the PI (Prof. Sattentau) to lead submissions.
After that, in March 2018, citing Dr. Moghaddam’s findings, Prof. Sattentau gave a funding panel at the Wellcome Trust a “preliminary framework” of the proposal.
Dr. Moghaddam claimed that this occurred without his permission, but Prof. Sattentau told the tribunal that he proceeded without first speaking to Dr. Moghammad because he wanted to go forward “as quickly as possible” in order to have the greatest chance of receiving funds.
As it was “only a preliminary conversation” to see if the trust would be “interested” in supporting the study, Prof. Sattentau also informed the tribunal that he did not believe it was essential to consult him.
Prof. Sattentau informed Dr. Moghaddam through email in April 2018 that a paper was required for that year. However, he admitted to the tribunal that he had been unwilling to allow the use of his findings without joint authorship.
Authorship of articles is a “sensitive topic that demands considerable study,” according to Prof. Sattentau, and it is “extremely difficult to commit to the authorship before a paper has been prepared.”
Dr. Moghaddam admitted before the tribunal that he was now experiencing “extremely depressive and negative” feelings.
He said he felt “threatened” by Prof. Sattentau’s email, which stressed the necessity for a paper in order to ensure the “security” of his financing and, therefore, his job.
The tribunal discovered, however, that Prof. Sattentau had only said in the email “in what he considered to be the facts” that financing was contingent upon having a paper, and that he was worried about Dr. Moghaddam’s job.
In contrast, the tribunal determined Prof. Sattentau’s application to the Wellcome Trust was “supportive,” rejecting Mr. Moghaddam’s assertions that this threatened the security of his employment.
After disagreements over the funding application, the tribunal noted that the couple’s relationship was “unravelling fast” by the end of 2018.
According to the testimony given at the tribunal, Dr. Moghaddam complained in writing in October 2018 about the “systematic appropriation of his scientific output and rightful authorship” of research he had conducted.
Dr. Moghaddam claimed to have been “belittled” in a meeting with department head Professor Matthew Freeman, who later told him that he was able to see farther because he “stood on the shoulders of giants.”
The tribunal, however, accepted Prof. Freeman’s defence that he meant the term “often used among scientists” in reference to Dr. Moghaddam’s attempt to continue her work with Prof. Sattentau.
The tribunal further acknowledged that Professor Freeman’s remark, “Why are you still here?” was in reference to Dr. Moghaddam’s employment at the Dunn School, and that he had ‘encouraged’ him to seek for a teaching post elsewhere if he wished to pursue a career as an independent researcher.
Dr. Moghaddam testified before the tribunal that there was a “striking pattern” favouring white students as writers in Professor Sattentau’s group at the Dunn School.
“Dr. Moghaddam’s complaint against Prof. Sattentau regarding academic concerns indicate the recognised breach in their relationship,” stated employment judge Andrew Gumbiti-Zimuto.
In light of this breakdown, neither Mr. Moghaddam nor Prof. Sattentau were able to collaborate in order to discover financing sources for Dr. Moghaddam’s ongoing research. There was no way to keep him employed without money.
The disagreement prevented Dr. Moghaddam and Prof. Sattentau from collaborating to reach an agreement on how to submit grant funding applications, which they both understood would have a fatal impact on Prof. Sattentau’s ability to continue working.
According to Prof. Sattentau, “the lack of collaboration between them resulted from their inability to reach consensus on the creation of a published article, without which Prof. Sattentau thought there was no genuine hope of a grant funding application being successful.”
The tribunal rejected Dr. Moghaddam’s claim that top officials at the institution had obstructed his professional advancement.
They also came to the conclusion that Dr. Moghaddam had “re-interpreted” the events as a result of the relationship’s failure, believing Prof. Sattentau had a “malign” motivation when there was none.
His argument that he was fired because of his ethnicity was denied because he received “no less favourable treatment.” All other claims, including those for wrongful dismissal and harm from whistleblowing, were also rejected.