A church charity worker who claimed she was sacked for whistleblowing about a married priest having a relationship with a ‘vulnerable’ member of his congregation has won £8,000 in compensation.
Caroline Marsland was unhappy that the clergyman was allowed to return to work after it was alleged he had a ‘relationship’ with the woman, an employment tribunal heard.
The alleged behaviour of the priest – identified in tribunal documents only as ‘DE’ – came to light after the unnamed woman’s partner complained to the Diocese, a hearing was told.
Mrs Marsland – project co-ordinator for a food bank run by the church – was left ‘angry, upset and disgusted’ by the revelations as she considered the woman to be a ‘vulnerable adult’.
Caroline Marsland – project co-ordinator for a food bank run by the church – was unhappy that the clergyman was allowed to return to work after it was alleged he had a ‘relationship’ with the woman, an employment tribunal heard
But after an investigation ruled the priest had done nothing wrong and he returned to work at the church and as chair of the committee that ran the charity, Mrs Marsland’s relationship with him and the other church members became ‘strained’.
Despite being told to keep the priest’s behaviour a secret, Mrs Marsland confided in a church friend.
Five months later she was made redundant, with the charity saying it had decided to focus on using volunteers instead of paid employees.
Mrs Marsland sued the food bank, claiming the real reason for her being let go was that she had blown the whistle on DE.
She has now won £8,000 in compensation after a tribunal ruled that while her disclosures were not the principal reason behind her losing her job she had been unfairly dismissed by the charity.
The tribunal, held in Glasgow, heard Mrs Marsland worked for Food For Thought, an emergency food donation service operating out of the community hall of St Augustine’s Scottish Episcopal Church in Dumbarton.
Between April 2016 and January 2019 she was employed as a project co-ordinator on £24,000 a year, until she was made redundant aged 55.
In June 2018, the tribunal heard DE was a priest of the church and chairman of the charity’s committee.
A complaint was made to the Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway about a ‘relationship’ between DE and a woman identified only as AB – a client and volunteer with the charity who was also a member of the church.
At the request of the Diocese, Mrs Marsland spoke to the client about her relationship with DE and reported her conversation to the Provincial Safeguarding Officer of the Diocese who was investigating the complaint.
The tribunal heard: ‘[Mrs Marsland] was shocked by the complaint against DE.. She had strong views about DE as a married man having a relationship with a client.
‘She considered the client to be a vulnerable adult. She felt protective towards AB. She felt let down by DE. She was angry and upset. She felt disgusted.’
Around a week after the complaint was made, Mrs Marsland met with DE and his wife at the suggestion of charity committee member Reverend Liz O’Ryan, but the meeting ‘did not go well’.
The priest was absent from the church during the Diocese’s investigation, but returned in August 2018 under the supervision of another clergyman.
The tribunal heard Mrs Marsland was ‘upset and angry’ that DE had been allowed to return to the church to continue his duties as a priest and remain as chairman of the committee.
She was ‘disgusted’, let it be known that it was her intention to resign from the charity and stopped attending the church.
Mrs Marsland and DE met in October 2018 to discuss their working relationship but again the meeting ‘did not go well’.
The tribunal heard Mrs Marsland suggested the priest should stand down as chairman, while DE said she was ‘causing division in the church’ and suggested that ‘as she was thinking of leaving anyway it was time for her to find another job’.
After meeting with DE, the claimant consulted her GP and was signed off with work-related stress.
The tribunal heard Mrs Marsland was ‘upset and angry’ that DE had been allowed to return to the church to continue his duties as a priest and remain as chairman of the committee. Pictured, St Augustine’s Scottish Episcopal Church in Dumbarton
Two days later she met Anne Dyer, a friend and member of a church committee, and told her everything she knew, despite being told to keep everything confidential.
After DE stepped down and a new charity chairman was appointed, Mrs Marsland returned to work in December 2018.
But the tribunal heard she continued to raise her concerns about DE’s return to work with Reverend O’Ryan. She was hostile towards DE and would not ‘engage’ with him. Eventually she stopped engaging with Reverend O’Ryan and the atmosphere at work became ‘strained’.
The committee met in January 2019 but Mrs Marsland was ill and unable to attend. At that meeting they agreed the charity did not need a full-time project co-ordinator as most of Mrs Marsland’s work could be done by volunteers.
The decision was made to terminate her contract and rely on volunteers, but the committee members mistakenly believed Mrs Marsland was self-employed.
Therefore, the tribunal found the dismissal lacked a ‘fair procedure’ as she was not considered an employee with employment protection rights.
Mrs Marsland appealed, believing her employment was terminated because she ‘could not conspire in allowing DE to continue to be involved with [the charity]’.
In March 2019, her sister published a post on social media criticising the charity and saying Mrs Marsland had been ‘fired because she refused to be complicit in a cover up’.
This is the claim Mrs Marsland brought to the employment tribunal – that she had been unfairly sacked for whistleblowing about the DE revelations to Mrs Dyer.
However, the tribunal ruled this was not the case.
Employment Judge Frances Eccles said: ‘[She] was entitled to disagree with the outcome of the investigation. She was entitled to feel that it was contrary to her moral principles.
‘This was not sufficient however, to persuade the Tribunal that she held a reasonable belief that the information disclosed to Anne Dyer tended to show that the health and safety of any individual had been, was being or was likely to be endangered.
‘From the evidence before it, the Tribunal was not persuaded that the principal reason for [Mrs Marsland’s] dismissal was for disclosing information to Anne Dyer.’
However, the tribunal ruled the dismissal was procedurally unfair and awarded her £8,059.13 in compensation.