30 Jan 2018

Mathematician accuses university of discrimination, loses case

9:18 am on 30 January 2018

A self-described mathematical genius who accused the University of Canterbury of failing to hire her because of her Romanian origins has had her claim of discrimination struck out.

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Dr Gabriella Popa made the complaint to the Human Rights Commission in October 2015.

As part of the complaint, Dr Popa - who has a Doctor of Philosophy in Mathematics - claimed the university consistently refused to employ her in the School of Mathematics and Statistics, despite her academic achievements.

She alleged there was unlawful discrimination on the grounds of race, colour and ethnic and national origins, as well as racial harassment.

The commission did not formally notify the complaint because there was no evidence the claims were true. Dr Popa then complained to the Human Rights Review Tribunal in 2016.

Dr Popa stated in her complaint that the discrimination occurrded despite her being "one of the best in mathematics on this earth" and graduating with a PhD. She said she could not get a job as a lecturer, or even as a tutor.

The university said she had never applied for any jobs, but despite that, her lack of teaching abilities and interpersonal skills meant she was not suited to working with students.

However, the tribunal accepted that Dr Popa had approached the university on numerous occassions over a six-year period about her wish to work as a tutor, but that her overtures had been rebuffed because she was considered unsuitable.

Dr Popa was asked whether she had any evidence that showed she was declined a job as a result of discrimination, but did not.

Instead, in a lengthy statement, she made allegations of racisim and discrimination against the university. She claimed that the tutors all have English names and English as their first language, and are people born in a wealthy part of the world, which contrasts with her own position.

She stated that there were no Romanian employees at the university.

The tribunal struck out Dr Poppa's claim last week after it found there was no evidence to suggest she was not hired because she was Romanian.