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Sacking of top geologist Hans Thybo was unjustified

One year after the University of Copenhagen dismissed Professor Hans Thybo, the case is now closed after arbitration has assessed that UCPH fired Hans Thybo in violation of labour agreements.

The renowned geologist Hans Thybo has been cleared by an arbitration court Friday 24th November that ruled that his dismissal from the University of Copenhagen was in violation of the collective agreements.

Hans Thybo was dismissed by the University of Copenhagen on 4th November 2016, primarily because he, according to UCPH, put pressure on a younger researcher to write critically about the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, where Thybo was a professor.

The case led to a storm of protests against the University of Copenhagen management from students as well as members of the geoscience community, and led to the scientific journal Nature writing critically about the UCPH university culture.

Now a court of arbitration has found that UCPH fired Hans Thybo in violation of collective agreements.

»The arbitrator, former head of the Supreme Court Børge Dahl, found that the termination of Hans Thybo was in violation of collective agreements. This means that a settlement was reached in which the University of Copenhagen pays compensation,« says lawyer Frederik Brocks, who led Hans Thybo’s case on behalf of the Danish Association of Masters and PhDs.

Frederik Brocks states that Hans Thybo has received the maximum allowance you can receive in this type of case, equal to half a year’s salary.

He says that he and Hans Thybo consider the outcome a clear victory.

»We are really happy with the decision because it was realistically the best we could achieve.«

Will not get his job back

Hans Thybo had demanded reinstatement in his position as professor at the University of Copenhagen, but the Supreme Court justice did not consider that there was a basis for this demand in collective agreements.

»It is quite unusual in Danish law that a workplace is sentenced to re-appoint a dismissed employee. We, that is my client and the Danish Association of Masters and PhDs, believed that if it were to happen at all, it should be in this case. We have not seen the arguments for the decision yet, but with Friday’s ruling, we should note that re-employment is probably not a real option.«

It was John Renner Hansen, Dean of the Faculty of Science, who dismissed Hans Thybo. In a short article on the University of Copenhagen’s intranet, he commented on the 24th November settlement:

»Of course, we take note of the decision. I’m glad that the case has now been closed and it was possible to settle. But I would like to emphasize that this type of case can never lead to a happy ending. And I can only regret the fact that UCPH’s earlier attempts at settling the case did not bear fruit.«

The Agency for Modernisation, which has led the case on behalf of the employer, will not comment on the settlement.

The case in short

On 5th September 2016, the University of Copenhagen informed Hans Thybo that he was to be fired from his position as professor at the Department of Earth Science and Nature Management. The main reason given by the university was that Hans Thybo had, in an email pressured one of his subordinate researchers, a postdoc, to write a critical response about department management in a workplace assessment survey. The postdoc, who is Egyptian, had worked with Thybo for several years.

The email’s wording was: »Please remember to fill in the questionnaire from KU [i.e. UCPH, ed.] about work environment, and remember that you do not need to be kind to management – rather on the contrary – e.g. In relation to the firing of me as research group leader.«

On the same day, Thybo met the postdoc. During the meeting, Thybo again – according to UCPH – put pressure on the younger researcher. According to UCPH, Thybo wanted the postdoc to record a conversation with a senior researcher at the department, and the young researcher was to send Thybo an e-mail with a statement that he had not received the aforementioned e-mail about the workplace assessment. According to UPCH, the mail should also contain some words about how the working environment in Thybo’s research group was good.

All of this has been denied by Hans Thybo.

4th November 2016, the University of Copenhagen fires Hans Thybo.

11th November 2016: The elected scientific staff representatives of the University of Copenhagen’s Board protest against the basis of the decision to fire Thybo.

24th November 2016: The University Post reveals that the University of Copenhagen had for a long time previous had a critical focus on Hans Thybo. In 2014, the University of Copenhagen spent half a million kroner on an audit of Hans Thybo’s documents in 2013-14. The auditors did not find anything but trivialities.

5th December 2016: The scientific journal Nature publishes an interview with the postdoc, who, according to UCPH, had been pressured by Hans Thybo. The postdoc says that he was not put under any pressure.

12th December, 2016: Over a thousand international scientists sign a statement in support of Hans Thybo. Previously, a large group of students had protested against his dismissal, and a group of his academic peers criticized it in a letter to the University of Copenhagen.

20th December 2016: Thybo’s former colleagues, including elected staff representatives, express their support for the management of the Department of Earth Science and Nature Management that wanted Thybo fired.

3rd February 2017: UCPH management won’t comment on the Thybo case, but there are rumours that Hans Thybo’s personnel file is stuffed with reasons why the University wants to get rid of him. However these reasons are not used in the official letter of dismissal, obtained by The University Post. It is revealed that Hans Thybo on several occasions has appealed to the Rector of the University of Copenhagen to quash these rumours and make it clear once and for all what the factual basis is of the dismissal. The Rector does not help Thybo.

24th November, 2017: Supported by his union, the Danish Association of Masters and PhDs, Hans Thybo has brought UCPH to court for unjustified dismissal. Arbitration now considers that Thybo’s sacking was unjustified under collective agreements, and that UCPH must therefore pay Thybo compensation.