Grimalda loses appeal over sacking for no-fly conscientious stance

  • Post last modified:February 27, 2024
  • Reading time:4 mins read

A scientist and activist whose bosses sacked him after he refused to travel by plane due to his carbon footprint and the climate crisis has lost his appeal over his dismissal.

Dr. Grimalda: taking a principled stand for the planet

Dr. Gianluca Grimalda, a social scientist and climate activist, lost his appeal at the Labour Court to regain his job after being sacked by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW). Last October, IfW fired Dr. Grimalda for his refusal to travel back home by plane.

Dr. Grimalda had spent seven months in Bougainville, an autonomous province of Papua New Guinea, to study the impact of market integration and climate change on social cohesion. His fieldwork was delayed six weeks due to security threats, natural hazards, and logistical constraints.

Faced with the injunction to fly back within five days to make up for the delay, Dr. Grimalda preferred to slow-travel back to Europe as he had originally planned. Dr. Grimalda sued the Kiel IfW for unfair dismissal, arguing that there was no reason he could not fulfil his work responsibilities remotely on his journey back to Europe.

German law is an ass (like the UK)

The judge of the Labour Court in Kiel, Germany, rejected his appeal on grounds that taking six weeks for slow-travel cannot be acceptable if the employer demands an employee to return immediately to the workplace.

The judge had previously rejected Dr Grimalda’s lawyer request to adjourn the hearing to present new evidence. The judge proposed the payment of two months of salary as a compromise solution in the legal case.

Dr. Grimalda rejected the compromise, declaring he wanted to enshrine into labour law the impossibility to sack a worker for conscientious objection to flying, thus forcing the judge to make a decision.

This is the first known case of an employee losing their job for their refusal to fly.

IfW behaviour ‘belongs to the deep Anthropocene pre-digital era’

Dr. Grimalda studied cooperative behaviour and propensity to protect individuals against collective risks in 30 villages from rural areas of the Bougainville archipelago. Starting his journey in mid-October 2023 by cargo ship, it took 72 days to travel over 28,000 km and 16 countries by ferry, train, coaches, vans, and trucks.

According to his estimate, slow-travel reduced greenhouse gases emissions by 10 times. Greenhouse gases are responsible for increased temperatures and extreme weather events. Dr. Grimalda has been slow–travelling for 15 years to minimise his carbon footprint.

He said:

I am very disappointed with this outcome. IfW wrote a large amount of untruthful things in their legal response. Those would have been easily falsifiable. In the end, though, they did not matter, because the judge basically said that slow-travel is inadmissible if your employer is not accepting it.

The behaviour by IfW belongs to the deep Anthropocene pre-digital era. As ecosystems are dangerously close to “tipping” into irreversible states of disaster, and as the recent COP28 failed once again to phase out fossil fuels, it is all the more important that scientists take extraordinary actions to signal the severity of the crisis. I would do all this again.

Dr. Grimalda does not rule out appealing against this sentence, but says that his lawyer first needs to read its motivations to see if there is a concrete chance of success. It is yet not clear whether Dr. Grimalda will have to pay €9,000 for trial expenses.

Grimalda’s punishment: ‘scandalous and beyond shameful’

Dr. Nana-Maria Grüning, Molecular Biologist, said of the case:

It is unusual that someone actually lives as if the truth of climate and environmental breakdown is real. Gianluca does it. This is remarkable in a society with a high level of denial. Populist politicians criminalise climate activists rather than protecting our life sustaining systems.

That the IfW is punishing their employee for just acting in touch with physical reality is a scandal and beyond shameful for a scientific institution.

More than 9,000 people signed a petition to reinstate Dr. Grimalda in his job. You can sign it here.

Featured image via Scientist Rebellion

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