Grant giving trust faces significant damages and legal costs
A tribunal has found Scotland’s biggest independent grant maker unfairly dismissed its former chief executive.
Kenneth Ferguson was sacked by the Robertson Trust over the hire of premises which the trust owned and he used as an elder of Stirling Free Church.
The tribunal was told that Shonaig Macpherson, chair of the charity, turned on Ferguson when she discovered the church’s views on gay marriage.
It will now be ordered to pay damages with the former chief executive seeking £75,000 compensation.
Macpherson, who has been a trustee since 2004, strongly denied that Ferguson’s dismissal had been motivated by her objection to his conservative religious views.
However, the hearing concluded that her testimony was “not sufficiently reliable”.
Ferguson said that his dismissal, after nine years of service, had taken a toll on him and his family. “I was treated by the Robertson Trust in a way I had never been treated before in my whole professional life,” he said.
“But I’m satisfied that justice has been done. The tribunal has ruled that they were wrong to behave that way and I’m grateful.
“I’m just relieved this is over. I want to thank those who have supported me and prayed for me.”
The tribunal was told that in April 2019 Macpherson had given Ferguson a glowing appraisal as an “engaging, optimistic, values-driven individual who fulfils an excellent role as an ambassador for the Robertson Trust”.
But the relationship soured over Ferguson’s use of the hall with Macpherson telling trustees: “Some of you may be familiar with the views of the Free Church in relation to homosexuality and gay marriage. The arrangement with the church does not fit with the Robertson Trust’s values and will offend staff, grant holders and stake holders generally as well as harming our reputation.”
Macpherson, the tribunal was told, had heckled Ferguson and turned her back on him at a trust meeting in January last year, and that he was dismissed the following March after a “sham” disciplinary hearing.
The tribunal found in favour of Ferguson, whose case was funded by the Christian Institute, a charity that promotes Christian beliefs. The tribunal concluded: “The impression was of Macpherson seeking to find reasons to justify dismissal, that that decision in her mind had been taken well before March 16, 2020, and explains why she did not take the trouble to read the disciplinary procedure she had sent Ferguson in November 2019, to have a formal investigation.”
Gerry McLaughlin, vice chair of the board of trustees at The Robertson Trust, said they would reflect on the findings.
“While we are disappointed by the tribunal’s ruling, we need time to reflect on a long and complex judgement before making further comment,” he said.
“We are deeply saddened by some of the tribunal’s findings. Our priority now is to turn our attention to reassure the organisations we fund – including many faith-based organisations - that we will continue to support and work alongside them as, together, we work towards helping people and places facing poverty and trauma in Scotland.”