Interim injunction refused for claimant suspended by university during the course of his employment

Sam Silver

An interim injunction was sought from the claimant to lift his suspension of employment at the defendant university. The claimant was the head of science and technology at the university but was suspended and barred from access to his work email account because of complaints about his relationship with colleagues. A review found that he had been accused of being a bully, intimidating stuff and attempting to credit himself with academic work which he had not contributed to.

The claimant alleged that the university had breached their duty of trust and confidence owed to him by suspending him and so he sought an injunction to lift the suspension and allow him access to his email account.

The Court held that the correct test to apply for this injunction request was that set out in American Cyanamid (despite the defendant submitting that some greater assurance than a “serious issue to be tried” was necessary in this instance). However, a greater emphasis would be placed on the assessment of the merits.
In order for the claimant to be successful, the Court therefore had to agree positively on the American Cyanamid test:

1) Was there a serious issue to be tried?
2) Were damages an adequate remedy?
3) Is the granting of an interim injunction just and convenient?

It was held that there was a serious issue to be tried. It seemed quite clear that a university suspension, potentially in breach of university duties, was a serious issue and the claimant had a seriously arguable case that the university did breach their policy. Specifically, the claimant’s arguments that the university commonly issued blanket suspensions to work systems, had not considered the scope of suspension and had not made an independent decision were forceful. The person who made the decision to suspend had personally complained of being bullied by the claimant and so should not have been the appropriate person to decide on suspension.

It was held that damages would not be an adequate remedy due to the serious harm the suspension would cause to the claimant’s reputation.

However, the Court decided it would not have been just or convenient to grant the injunction. The claimant’s intimidating behaviour had put staff at risk, and had caused significant stress. It was the university’s priority to protect their staff from such behaviour. Two individuals had apparently sought medical help after their mental health had been adversely affected by the claimant’s behaviour. On balance, the risk of harm to the claimant in refusing the application was less than the risk of harm to the university and its staff were the court to grant the injunction. However, it was important that the university continued to monitor the suspension and consider whether allowing the claimant access to his email account might be appropriate.

Blackstock v University College London [2018] EWHC 1011 (QB) 

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