Full Federal Court finds University of Sydney validly terminated the employment of its academic staff member, Dr Anderson

20 May 2024

The Full Federal Court of Australia has held by majority that the University of Sydney, Professor Stephen Garton and Professor Annmarie Jagose, had validly terminated the employment of Dr Anderson, a Senior Lecturer in its Department of Economics. The University terminated Dr Anderson’s employment for contraventions of certain Enterprise Agreements arising from publications he made on social media.

Dr Anderson’s social media activity included, amongst other things, posting a graphic that “juxtaposed a Nazi swastika with the flag of the State of Israel.” The University determined this conduct to be in contravention of its policies and terminated his employment. The National Tertiary Education Industry Union, on behalf of Dr Anderson, contended successfully at first instance that the termination contravened the s50 of the Fair Work Act.

Cl 317 of the relevant Enterprise Agreement provided that parties “will uphold the principle and practice of intellectual freedom in accordance with the highest ethical, professional and legal standards.” Cl 315 of the Agreement provides for the exercise of intellectual freedom. Perram J (with Lee J agreeing) held that it is for the Union to “prove that Dr Anderson’s various comments had complied with the highest ethical, professional and legal standards referred to in cl 317”.

Perram J went on to observe that Dr Anderson had “waded into the briar patch which is the situation in Palestine” and it was for “Dr Anderson to engage in the forensic gymnastics of explaining how his at least incendiary conduct could be characterised as being consistent with the highest ethical, professional and legal standards referred to in cl 317. This he did not do.”

Justin Gleeson SC
, Sebastian Hartford Davis and Kate Bones appeared for the University of Sydney, instructed by Stephen Woodbury, Helen McKenzie and Peter McNulty of Ashurst.

Link to judgment

Link to media coverage