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Vice president of data firm loses unfair dismissal appeal over golf trip

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

In the case of Thompson v Informatica Software Ltd  Mr Thompson was employed as Vice President UK & Ireland which is the UK arm of the Informatica International corporate group, a software development firm, which has its headquarters in California and operates in approximately 80 countries. His principal focus was on sales. At the time of his dismissal, he had four direct reports and was responsible for a sales and pre-sales team comprising 41 employees. A significant proportion of the earnings of the sales teams was commission on sales.

Highways England’s executive IT director Tony Malone was invited to speak at an Informatica conference in 2017. Highways England had signed a $4.8m contract with the US software development firm the previous year. Keen to impress the customer, Informatica salesman Colin Grey suggested he accompany Malone to California’s Pebble Beach Golf Club so Malone could tick it off his “bucket list”.

Mr Thompson authorised the spend of $5,400 on a one-night stay for Malone at the club, including dinner, green fees and a private hotel transfer on top of costing around $2,000, with Employment Judge Vowles noting in his 2020 ruling: “The Pebble Beach Golf Club is a very expensive venue, and widely known to be so, being one of the top golf clubs in the US.”

Mr Thompson did not seek advice from Legal or HR at ISL (as clearly prescribed in the Policies) as to whether the payment was in line with the Policies. This was despite the fact that he knew the trip’s costs were too high and he was aware a different procedure existed for public officials but did not check what the procedure was. ISL investigated the issue in line with its disciplinary policy. At a disciplinary hearing, Mr Thompson acknowledged that he was “not comfortable” with the cost of the trip, that he overlooked or was unaware of the Policies and, in hindsight, he should have cancelled the trip. He was summarily dismissed for gross misconduct.

The ET found that ISL had acted reasonably in concluding that Mr Thompsn had shown a “wilful disregard” for the Policies and that there were, therefore, reasonable grounds for ISL’s belief that he was guilty of misconduct. The EAT upheld the ET’s decision.

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