Sacked University of the South Pacific senior manager Hasmukh Lal is not challenging claims of plagiarism that led to his termination, documents filed with the Fiji High Court reveal.
His lawyers, Reddy & Nandan are alleging two causes of actions in their 15-page writ of summons filed at the High Court of Suva’s civil registry on 27 May.
“It is an implied and or express term of the agreement that when dealing with its employees, the defendant (USP) would afford them due process, natural justice and procedural fairness and the defendant failed to afford the plaintiff due process, natural justice and procedural fairness,” states the document that proposes breach of contract as the first cause of action.
Negligence and breach of duty of care is stated as his second cause of action:
“The defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff (Lal) to ensure that the plaintiff during the cause of his employment was protected from victimisation, loss of dignity and humiliation and injury to feelings and to ensure that the plaintiff was afforded due process, natural justice and procedural fairness.”
The document seeks a nine-point declaration from the High Court’s Employment Tribunal which among other demands included reinstatement and payment of damages for “breach of contract, negligence, loss of salary, loss of allowances and superannuation.”
Islands Business understands that USP’s lawyers must respond to Lal’s writ of summons before the court can convene. USP has been given a few weeks to lodge its reply.
However there are suggestions Lal may be reinstated following the decision of the executive committee of the USP council to stand down Vice Chancellor Pal Ahluwalia and replace him with one of his deputies, Derrick Armstrong.
Lal has declined to talk to Islands Business.
USP’s Pacific TAFE is a multi-course pre-degree study programme offering courses in hospitality and tourism, commerce and business, arts and humanities, science, technology and environment. Lal’s employment as CEO of Pacific TAFE was terminated on 22 May on charges that he plagiarised the dissertation he submitted to a little-known internet-based university in Hawaii, for a doctorate in business administration.
Prior to this Lal had sought and obtained approval for USP to pay for his online studies, reportedly costing the university F$18000.
The dissertation in question was titled: Processes & Impact of Strategic Mergers in High Education, Study of Pacific Technical and Further Education of University of the South Pacific. It bore the date, May 21, 2019.
USP alleges that the dissertation was not authored by Lal but by a junior staff of the university whom he directed on 17 April 2019 to do research on “Business Impact of Strategic Mergers in High Education: A Study of Pacific TAFE of University of the South Pacific.”
On 21 May 2019, the fourth draft of the paper was submitted to Lal, the USP alleges. A final draft was done on 22 May 2019 and on 23 May 2019, he reportedly informed his staff that the paper has been sent, although he did not say to whom or where it had been sent to.
“On 7th June 2019, you were conferred the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) from the Atlantic International University,” said a letter sent to Lal by the USP.
“You subsequently submitted the DBA degree to USP for purposes of updating BANNER with the said doctorate.”
The USP letter continued: “On 14 May 2020, USP obtained a copy of your thesis entitled “Business Impact of Strategic Mergers in Higher Education: A study of Pacific TAFE of University of the South Pacific” that you submitted to the Atlantic International University for the award of the DBA.
“The thesis paper that you submitted for the award of the DBA to the Atlantic International University is the same as that submitted by [name withheld] to you on 22 May 2019 entitled ‘Business Impact of Strategic Mergers in Higher Education: A Study of Pacific TAFE of University of the South Pacific.’
“If it is established that you used a USP Document to represent a work of your own to obtain a DBA, it would constitute a breach of paragraph 4.1 of the Code of Professional Conduct for Academic Staff.
“Such a breach would be classified as “gross misconduct” on your part under the USP Discipline of Academic, Professional, Administrative, Library and Technical, Intermediate and Junior and Hourly Paid Staff Ordinance.”
Lal’s writ of summons quoted the above, but made the claim that “the charge(s) and allegations levelled against the plaintiff by the defendant is/are fundamentally and fatally flawed as the plaintiff is not an academic staff therefore the code of professional conduct for academic staff does not apply to the plaintiff.”
It also alleges that even if Lal had responded to the allegations, the “matter could not proceed any further as the position of Vice President Administration (VPA) was vacant and consultation with the VPA was required after the receipt of the said response.”
His writ of summons also made reference, although not by name, to the Ahluwalia report in early 2019 that exposed mismanagement and excessive payouts to several university staff during Vice Chancellor Rajesh Chandra’s tenure, and seemed to infer that his sacking was the continuation of victimisation of him by VC Ahluwalia.
“Sometime in early 2019, VCP (Professor Ahluwalia) had prepared a report which among other things had cast aspersions on the plaintiff’s reputation,” claims point 7 of Lal’s writ of summons.
“The plaintiff had after matters stated in the preceding paragraph had transpired sought protection against victimisation by the VCP from the defendant (USP),” adds paragraph 8.