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Lecturer Sacked Because Of Excessive Text Punctuation Wins £15,000 Pay-Out

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Lecturer Sacked Because Of Excessive Text Punctuation Wins £15,000 Pay-Out

A university lecturer who was sacked from a role as a halls of residence warden because he used too many punctuation marks in his text messages has won a pay-out of around £15,000.

Dr Binoy Sobnack, a Cambridge-educated physics lecturer at the University of Loughborough was unfairly sacked for his 'aggressive' behaviour, which included adding in multiple question marks at the end of texts.

The tribunal heard that Sobnack used an 'intimidating tone' with the use of 'multiple punctuation marks' at the end of otherwise normal messages.

Complaints from his fellow staff members eventually led to his removal from his position at the halls of residence.

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However, the employment tribunal found that he had been unfairly dismissed from that role, even though his conduct was 'unnecessarily aggressive' and 'culpable and blameworthy'.

Dr Sobnack, who is a lecturer in Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics, began his job at Loughborough in 1999 before becoming warden of Harry French Hall in 2002.

Dr Binoy Sobnack. Credit: Loughborough University
Dr Binoy Sobnack. Credit: Loughborough University

He ran the hall with several sub-wardens, usually PhD students, and in July 2018 one made a complaint against him and said that his removal would be 'the best thing to happen to the hall'.

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In April the following year another sub-warden complained that he'd sent her 'aggressive' text messages, such as 'why don't you listen?????? Stick to what has been decided!'

When she said she had to attend a meeting, he sent her: "Do you have to stay for dinner????"

She complained that the messages had humiliated her, and said that his tone was 'inappropriate' because of the excessive - and it is excessive - punctuation.

The tribunal was told that the university's own investigation found that the 'tone and manner' of the correspondence was 'unhelpfully emotive', but no action was taken.

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However, he was told to dial it back a bit in future.

Judge Richard Adkinson said: "The use of multiple exclamation or question marks could well change or influence how a recipient might perceive a text message, and might make an otherwise neutral text appear aggressive, intimidating or suggesting disbelief.

"In cross-examination, (Dr Sobnack) accepted that his tone was not appropriate on at least on occasion.

"I believe that it must also be an inevitable conclusion that, as warden, he knew that he had to be careful about how he communicated.

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"He had for years managed sub-wardens who themselves may well be new to the University and embarking upon a very different and potentially stressful new academic stage.

"As a warden managing several sub-wardens, he would have to have known, and over the years have learnt, of the importance of the tone of his communications when working with subordinates and managing them."

Harry French Hall. Credit: Loughborough University
Harry French Hall. Credit: Loughborough University

He continued: "Dr Sobnack did not suggest it was an accident he used multiple question marks in the texts. It must have been deliberate.

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"He must have wanted to convey a particular sub-text because they have no other linguistic function.

"He must have understood when typing out text messages, the subtext that would be conveyed by the use of multiple punctuation marks and of the tone that they would convey."

However, the judge eventually decided that the decision to sack Dr Sobnack was wrong, awarding him nearly £15,000 in compensation.

He still teaches at the university, but the unfair dismissal charge related to his role at the halls.

Despite finding in his favour, the judge also said that his tone was 'brusque, blunt and unnecessarily aggressive', adding: "In context, it cannot sensibly be read as a genuine question.

"It makes no effort to engage. It has the same tenor of the messages that on each occasion resulted in Dr Alonso giving informal advice to Mr Sobnack.

"He had been advised to watch his tone in his text communications. He had ignored it.

"That is culpable and blameworthy conduct that contributed to everything that happened."

Featured Image Credit: Loughborough Science/YouTube

Topics: UK News, University, Weird

Tom Wood
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