January 8, 2021

Royds Withy King secures significant Employment Tribunal win against Oxford Saïd Business School

  • Dr Elaine Heslop, advised by our London Employment Partner Richard Woodman, held to have been unfairly dismissed following whistleblowing disclosures
  • Tribunal hears claims of Oxford Saïd Business School misleading government over its major project leadership programme

The Tribunal found that Dr Heslop was unfairly dismissed following whistleblowing claims that the business school had, amongst other things, misled the government over its £22m ‘major project leadership academy’ programme designed to equip those working in government with the skills needed to drive large and complex projects.

The Employment Tribunal agreed that Dr Heslop had been unfairly dismissed and that the whistleblowing was a ‘protected disclosure’. Awarded damages to be announced in a separate hearing in May 2021 are expected to be very substantial.

Dr Heslop joined Oxford Saïd Business School as its Director of Custom Executive Education in 2016. In 2018, Dr Heslop raised concerns that the business school was attempting to breach EU procurement rules by offering the Cabinet Office a 20% discount, that could be interpreted as a bribe, to retain the contract for the programme and avoid a public procurement process.

More seriously, she also raised concerns that the Cabinet Office had been ‘materially mislead’ having been charged £934,000 for a bespoke ‘major project leadership academy’ in which it would own intellectual property but which was almost identical to existing courses offered by Oxford Saïd Business School. The issue only came to light when the government tried to licence the programme to the Australian government.

Dr Elaine Heslop said at the time that the ‘Cabinet Office had spent so much on development fees they would have a reasonable expectation that tailored written materials did exist’. She went on to say that ‘I felt physically sick when I had seen the cut and paste job when I had examined the programme materials’.

The business school responded by questioning her leadership capabilities and dismissing her from her post in September 2018.

Richard Woodman, a Partner in our Employment Team, acted for Dr Elaine Heslop. He said: “Dr Heslop is very pleased to have been vindicated by this judgment. She always believed that she was sacked for speaking the truth to power and is delighted that Employment Judge Anstis and his colleagues agreed.

“It has been a long haul for her against much better resourced opposition and she hopes that Oxford Saïd Business School will promptly accept the financial consequences of the judgment so that she can move on with life.”

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