Academic wins $1.2m in unlawful sacking case


JAMES Cook University has been ordered to pay more than $1.2 million in damages to former employee Peter Ridd who was unlawfully sacked after he publicly criticised the uni's climate science.

Federal Circuit Court Judge Sal Vasta found the northern university had unlawfully contravened its enterprise agreement 13 times including by censuring and sacking the respected professor.

The court today ordered the university to pay more than $1.2 millions in damages to Dr Ridd including $167,000 for past wages and superannuation lost, $835,000 for future wages and superannuation lost, $90,000 for general damages and $125,000 as pecuniary penalty.

Dr Ridd welcomed the court's decision, saying he hoped the university would not appeal the decision and add to the hundreds of thousands of dollars in litigation fees already spent.

Dr. Peter Ridd arriving at Federal Court, Brisbane. Picture: Liam Kidston.
Dr. Peter Ridd arriving at Federal Court, Brisbane. Picture: Liam Kidston.

"This case was always about academic freedom," Dr Ridd said.

"It was a fight that should never have started in the first place.

"I have worked for 35 years on the Great Barrier Reef, and my genuinely held belief is that there are systemic quality assurance problems at GBR science institutions.

"I had a right, a duty, to say this. JCU have still not accepted this fundamental right despite the importance of the debate to the North Queensland region."

The landmark case has cost more than $1m in legal fees, with the university forking out more than $600,000 while Dr Ridd and his wife paid $200,000 on top of the $260,000 raised by his passionate supporters.

"An appeal will continue the huge and pointless legal costs," he said.

Dr Ridd was sacked from his job of 30 years with the Townsville university last year after he publicly criticised what he described as a lack of quality assurance and misleading, deficient and sensationalist Great Barrier Reef research being produced by the university.

In his ruling, Judge Vasta said the university had "incredibly...not understood the whole concept of intellectual freedom".

"That is why intellectual freedom is so important," he said.

"It allows academics to express their opinions without fear of reprisals. It allows a Charles Darwin to break free of the constraints of creationism. It allows an Albert Einstein to break free of the constraints of Newtonian physics. It allows the human race to question conventional wisdom in the never-ending search for knowledge and truth. And that, at its core, is what higher learning is about.

"To suggest otherwise is to ignore why universities were created and why critically focused academics remain central to all that university teaching claims to offer."