UNISON helped a whistleblower win compensation from the University of Gloucestershire after she was sidelined for exposing suspected financial mismanagement.
The Business Development Manager was asked by the university’s former Deputy Vice Chancellor, Paul Bowler, to look into the finances in July 2009. He had been hired to put together a financial recovery plan for the university, which is on the Higher Education and Funding Council for England’s “at risk” list.
Following Mr Bowler’s move from the university in November, the attitude of senior staff, including the Vice Chancellor, Head of Finance, Dean of the Business School and Director of Marketing, changed towards Mrs Merrigan.
She told the Tribunal that they had colluded against her to remove her from the work she was doing - the university’s recovery plan and financial investigation were suspended.
Bristol Employment Tribunal found that the Dean of the Business School, who was implicated in Mrs Merrigan’s disclosures, influenced the University to take action against Mrs Merrigan.
As a result, the Business Development Manager had suffered at the hands of the University for disclosing information on financial problems and she was awarded compensation of £6,000 for injury to feelings.
Dave Prentis, UNISON’s General Secretary, said:
“Mrs Merrigan was brave enough to challenge serious financial mismanagement at the university and we are pleased the Tribunal has upheld her case.
“At a time when public services are facing the deepest cuts in a generation, it is vital that there are people like Jan, who will fight for financial transparency and will not look the other way, or be too frightened to speak out, when there are serious problems.
“Mrs Merrigan’s work and that of her colleagues, who are often described as ‘back office staff’, is vital to make sure the public money is used properly and efficiently.
“Employers must listen to their staff and take urgent action when they identify these serious issues, and not ignore them as the University of Gloucestershire did.
“I hope that this will encourage other employees to speak out and that the university will value their staff more as a result of this decision. They play a vital role in making sure that public finances are subject to scrutiny and the highest possible standards.”
Jan Merrigan said:
“I am delighted I have won, but most importantly, that my concerns were taken seriously.
“I never wanted to take my case to an external Tribunal, but the internal procedures were flawed and despite my best efforts, the university did not want to hear what I had to say, or address my serious concerns over financial flaws.
“This was at a time when the university faced grave financial challenges and had been placed on the Higher Education Funding Council’s ‘At Risk’ list.
“I had no other alternative than to take these concerns to the Tribunal, to make sure that the public interests were served.
“I want to carry on doing a job that I love and for the university to learn from this experience and make sure no one has to take a case like this again.
“We need an open and transparent culture, where staff can speak out on issues of public interest and concerns over finance, knowing that they will be addressed.”
Sarah Henderson, of UNISON’s Solicitors, Thompsons, said:
“This is a great result. Ms Merrigan was effectively punished for doing her job when the matters she was revealing became uncomfortable for those at the top.
“With the support of UNISON Mrs Merrigan has managed to expose the injustice.”