Former chief of Terrence Higgins Trust was unfairly dismissed

An employment tribunal rules that Rosemary Gillespie was dismissed by the board mainly because she made disclosures about the behaviour of Paul Jenkins, former deputy chair

Rosemary Gillespie
Rosemary Gillespie

The former chief executive of the HIV/Aids charity the Terrence Higgins Trust was unfairly dismissed because she tried to blow the whistle about the inappropriate behaviour of a trustee and other issues at the charity, an employment tribunal has concluded.

Rosemary Gillespie was asked to step down in July 2015 but claimed at a hearing in London in March that she had been unfairly dismissed.

The tribunal’s judgment, released yesterday, unanimously found that she had been dismissed by the trustees principally because she made disclosures about Paul Jenkins, the charity’s former deputy chair, who got drunk and tried to kiss and place his "hand on the crotch" of a senior staff member after a fundraising auction in aid of the charity. Gillespie had said his actions raised safeguarding concerns.

She had also raised concerns about the cost and length of time taken for an investigation into allegations of misconduct against two senior managers – referred to in the tribunal judgment only as J and B – after they were suspended.

Gillespie’s dismissal came three months after she received a glowing email from Robert Glick, the charity’s chair, in which he said he wanted to "underscore what a tremendous pleasure it has been, and I know will continue to be, to work with you".

He said the pair were on the way to developing an outstanding partnership and "I couldn’t be more excited about working with you at the helm as we take the leap into the next stage of this great charity’s work".

Glick claimed at the tribunal that he did have serious doubts about Gillespie’s performance at the time of sending the email and it was intended to boost her confidence.

But the three-man panel rejected the claim and said his explanation seemed to be "an inaccurate after-the-event rationalisation" that indicated "an attempt to show that performance was in issue in April 2015 when, as we have found, the reality was that it was not".

The judgment says the tribunal concluded that the charity’s evidence about the reason for dismissal was unsatisfactory and could not be accepted.

"The tribunal therefore found, as a matter of probability, that Mr Glick’s reason or principal reason for pressing for the claimant’s dismissal was that she had made disclosures," it says.

The tribunal, however, rejected a claim from Gillespie that the nature of the charity’s announcement about her departure had caused detriment to her by implying that she had been dismissed for gross misconduct.

A remedy hearing to determine what payment Gillespie will receive, which was scheduled for tomorrow, has been postponed and will take place at a later date.

In a statement, she said there had been no winners as a result of the case and the people who had lost the most were the charity’s service users and those who had supported and raised funds for them.

"I was brought in to the charity because I have a successful track record of leading change, and trustees were aware after they conducted an external listening exercise that a great deal of change and improvement was needed at the charity," she said. "I am confident that if I had been given time to see these changes through and not been treated in the way I was, I would have achieved this at the Terrence Higgins Trust."

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the THT said it would carry out a review of its governance and decision-making processes in light of the hearing.

"It is clear from the tribunal’s findings that there are some lessons for us to learn – we will carefully review these findings and take appropriate action to respond to the concerns that they have raised, including a review of our governance and decision-making processes," she said.

"Our focus is on moving forward and continuing to prevent HIV transmissions and support individuals to live well with HIV. We have entered a positive new chapter, with a new strategy and chief executive in place, and are focused on the future."

Asked if anyone had been disciplined or told to stand down as a result of the case, the spokeswoman said: "The board’s focus at the moment is to carefully consider the tribunal’s findings and, where there are lessons to be learned, to take appropriate action."

Ian Green joined the THT as chief executive in March.

Jenkins stood down from the charity’s board last month, while both parties waited the outcome of the tribunal hearing.

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