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Sacked church charity worker awarded £8,000 after dispute over ‘priest's affair’

Caroline Marsland worked for a food bank operating out of St Augustine’s Scottish Episcopal Church in Dumbarton (Picture: Picasa 3.0)

Provided by Metro Caroline Marsland worked for a food bank operating out of St Augustine’s Scottish Episcopal Church in Dumbarton (Picture: Picasa 3.0)

A church charity worker who claimed she was sacked for revealing that a married priest had an affair with a ‘vulnerable’ parishioner has been awarded £8,000 in compensation. 

Caroline Marsland was ‘angry, upset and disgusted’ that the clergyman, identified only as ‘DE’, was allowed to return to work at St Augustine’s Scottish Episcopal Church in Dumbarton. 

Despite being told to keep the priest’s alleged behaviour a secret, she confided in a friend, an employment tribunal in Glasgow heard. 

Five months later, Mrs Marsland, a project co-ordinator for a food bank run by the church earning £24,000 per year, was made redundant. 

She later sued the Food For Thought food bank, claiming the real reason she had lost her job was because she had blown the whistle on DE. 

Although the tribunal ruled her disclosures were not the principal reason behind the decision, they awarded her £8,000 after concluding she had been unfairly dismissed. 

The tribunal heard the priest’s alleged behaviour came to light when the partner of the unnamed woman, identified as AB, complained to the diocese. 

In their written ruling, they note: ‘[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.’ 

Mrs Marsland’s relationship with DE and other churchgoers later became ‘strained’ when the cleric was cleared of any wrongdoing following an investigation and returned to work in August 2018. 

Various meetings with DE to discuss their working relationship ‘did not go well’ and Mrs Marsden told him she intended to resign from the charity and stopped going to the church. 

The panel heard she suggested the priest should step down as chairman, while DE accused her of ‘causing division in the church’ and recommended that ‘as she was thinking of leaving anyway it was time for her to find another job’. 

While signed off with work-related stress, Mrs Marsland confided all she knew in a friend, despite requests to keep the information confidential. 

She returned to work after DE stepped down in December 2018, but it was decided at a committee meeting in January 2019 that the charity no longer needed 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 unpaid workers, but the committee members mistakenly believed Mrs Marsland was self-employed. 

The tribunal therefore found the dismissal lacked a ‘fair procedure’ as she was not considered an employee with employment protection rights. 

In March 2019, Mrs Marsland’s sister published a post on social media criticising the charity and saying she had been ‘fired because she refused to be complicit in a cover up’. 

That was the claim Mrs Marsland brought to the employment tribunal – that she had been unfairly sacked for whistleblowing. 

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 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.’ 

They awarded her £8,059.13 in compensation after ruling the dismissal was procedurally unfair.  

Reference: Metro: Sam Corbishley  

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