A professor who was unfairly sacked and victimised for raising sex discrimination concerns at one of Scotland’s leading universities has claimed that her life has been “destroyed”.

Professor Roya Sheikholeslami has been locked in a legal battle with the University of Edinburgh since 2012, with an employment tribunal recently awarding her almost £50,000.

Her discrimination concerns – raised in 2010 – resulted in an internal review which found that male academics within the School of Engineering believed female staff had only been taken on “because they were women, not because they were good enough”.

The tribunal found that the fallout from the review led to Ms Sheikholeslami being “distrusted and disliked” within the department and being “sent to Coventry” as staff were instructed not to speak to her.

The 63-year-old Iranian went off sick with stress and depression and was ultimately sacked by the university in April 2012 when officials realised that her work permit was about to expire.

She is now unable to work or access NHS treatment as she is an immigration overstayer, but cannot leave the country until her tribunal case is fully settled.

The Herald: Professor Roya SheikholeslamiProfessor Roya Sheikholeslami

Speaking to The Herald, the chemical processing professor, who is still awaiting the outcome of a further appeal in the case, told of her devastation at what has happened.

She said: “At the time that they sponsored and relocated me here, I was well established in my career. I was full of high hopes about my new job and new home but unfortunately it didn’t work out as I thought it would.

“They punished me because I made a complaint, it has destroyed my health, my life, my career and my livelihood.

“The stress, anxiety and panic disorder that the university’s actions have caused me don’t allow me to do normal day to day activities without great effort and adjustments.

“As the tribunal found, it has had a devastating effect on me and my health. It has adversely impacted all aspects of my life in the past 12 years.”

She added: “I have been in an open prison. I cannot work. If I leave the country, I cannot return and be present for my tribunal hearings for which I must be present.

“The indignity and hardship that I have faced only just dealing with this issue of immigration is beyond what I ever imagined having to go through.”

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Ms Sheikholeslami started working with the university in May 2007 on a start-up package of £948,000, of which £600,000 was to be spent developing a new laboratory.

However, delays and problems with the setting up of the workspace meant it was not ready for use until late 2009 and she had no access to a working lab during this time.

The tribunal found that there was “miscommunication” over how much of a role Ms Sheikholeslami should take in setting it up.

In January 2010, the professor was diagnosed with work-related stress and depression and had to take time off.

A few months later, she and Professor Andrea Schaefer – the only two females left in the school of engineering from a larger group hired around the same time – wrote to the university’s principal, Sir Timothy O’Shea, to complain that they were “completely disabled in our employment due to gender discrimination”.

A diversity review was then implemented and included information from an earlier focus group with men from the engineering department who all believed that the recent appointment of females was entirely due to “positive discrimination”.

The review stated: “The disparity and tone of this discussion and the apparent unanimity in the group indicated that there was a widespread view within the School that ‘these women were appointed because they were women, not because they were good enough’.”

Following the review, the women received an apology, however a group of “insiders” took a dislike to Ms Sheikholeslami from then on.

The tribunal heard there was an “injunction” against speaking to her unless via her lawyer. This meant that she was not told about other academics taking over her lab.

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A long-running “impasse” then ensued, where the professor failed to attend occupational health and the university refused to let her return to work within a different department.

She was then told that she would be dismissed in April 2012 as her work permit was due to expire.

The tribunal found that she did not suffer sex discrimination, but was victimised for raising her concerns, suffered disability discrimination and was unfairly dismissed.

It also criticised staff who gave evidence in the case, including Professor Lesley Yellowlees who “chose to be untruthful” about her role in dismissing Ms Sheikholeslami.

The university said it would not comment in individual cases.