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Church food bank worker who disapproved of priest’s relationship with married woman wins unfair dismissal claim

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

In Mrs C Marsland v Food For Thought Caroline Marsland was a church charity worker working as project co-ordinator for a food bank run by St Augustine’s Scottish Episcopal Church in Dumbarton.

In 2018, a complaint was made to the Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway of which the church is a member. The complaint was about a married priest having a relationship with a ‘vulnerable’ member of his congregation. 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.

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 let down by DE and was angry and upset. She felt disgusted.

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. 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 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’ and let it be known that it was her intention to resign from the charity and stopped attending the church.

The decision was made to terminate her contract and rely on volunteers, but the committee members mistakenly believed Mrs Marsland was self-employed. Mrs Marsland brought a claim to the employment tribunal – that she had been unfairly sacked for whistleblowing about the DE revelations.

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. From the evidence before it, the Tribunal was not persuaded that the principal reason for [Mrs Marsland’s] dismissal was for disclosing information.”

However, the tribunal ruled the dismissal was procedurally unfair and awarded her £8,059.13 in compensation.

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