James Cook University is appealing a decision ordering it pay sacked academic Peter Ridd $1.2 million, arguing a judge was wrong to find the controversial professor was unlawfully dismissed for exercising his right to intellectual freedom.
Federal Court documents reveal JCU has briefed one of Australia’s top barristers, Bret Walker SC, to argue it was legal for the north Queensland university to sack Dr Ridd last year after he publicly criticised its climate change science.
Physics professor Dr Ridd will on Monday launch an online bid for crowd-funding to help pay his legal costs, asking for an extra $1.5m, after supporters already tipped in $260,000 to help fund his unfair dismissal claim. Dr Ridd has spent $200,000 of his own money.
“It’s diabolically expensive because we expect it to go all the way to the High Court,” he said.
“In the end, this is a battle for academic freedom. It’s about not allowing universities to stifle free speech.
Dr Ridd was sacked last year after being censured three times for publicly criticising his colleagues and the university. He claimed the science regarding the effects of coral bleaching and global warning on the Great Barrier Reef was not subject to adequate quality assurance.
In April, Federal Circuit Court judge Sal Vasta ruled JCU breached the Fair Work Act by unlawfully dismissing Dr Ridd in a breach of the university’s enterprise agreement.
Earlier this month, Judge Vasta ordered JCU pay Mr Ridd about $1.2m as compensation for past and future economic loss, general compensation, and other penalties.
“In this case, Professor Ridd has endured over three years of unfair treatment by JCU — an academic institution that failed to respect the rights to intellectual freedom that Professor Ridd had as per clause 14 of the enterprise agreement,” Judge Vasta said.
The university has always insisted Dr Ridd was not sacked because of his scientific views, and has said he was dismissed for denigrating the university and its employees, and breaching confidentiality.
JCU’s notice of appeal confirms the university is appealing both Judge Vasta’s April decision that Dr Ridd was unfairly dismissed, and also his $1.2m penalty judgment.
A spokesman for JCU confirmed the university had lodged the appeal.
Editor’s Note: Please support Peter Ridd’s Legal Action Fund