David Orbison withdraws final employment tribunal claim against regulator over £100,000 costs fear

Orbison tells the tribunal that the Charity Commission 'has used its economic might to bully me into this position'

David Orbison
David Orbison

David Orbison, the former Charity Commission case worker who took the regulator to an employment tribunal, has withdrawn his final outstanding claim because he feared being ordered to pay more than £100,000 of the commission’s costs if he lost.

Orbison has been involved in a long-running employment dispute with the regulator since he left the commission in 2010. He had made a complaint under the Public Interest Disclosure Act that the regulator was breaching its statutory duty by failing to take sufficiently robust action against the charity African Aids Action, which he had been asked to investigate.

He resigned from the commission and brought a case against it at the employment tribunal for claims including constructive dismissal and discrimination. The regulator won three out of the four claims in 2012 and the fourth earlier this year after an appeal.

The judgment from the employment appeal tribunal remitted to a fresh tribunal Orbison’s claim that the regulator had failed to make reasonable adjustments for him to be able to return to work.

But Orbison last week wrote to the tribunal withdrawing his claim.

He had received a letter from the Treasury Solicitors Department on behalf the commission, advising him that his prospects for success on the outstanding claim were poor.

The letter offered Orbison £7,000 to settle the matter without any admission of liability, "subject to a mutually acceptable binding agreement being reached".

It said that, in the event of the claim failing or Orbison being awarded less than the £7,000 offered in any subsequent hearing, the commission would apply to the tribunal for costs, "not just in relation to our costs in any further hearing, but in relation to the costs that we have incurred to date".

It said: "You will recall that when you initially brought your first claim against the Charity Commission we offered to settle the matter for £10,000. You rejected that offer and, as you are aware, over £100,000 in costs have been spent in defending the claims which both the employment tribunal and the employment appeal tribunal have found to be without merit."

Orbison’s subsequent letter to the tribunal said he wanted to make it clear that he had withdrawn his claim reluctantly and only to protect himself and his partner from "any additional anxiety arising from such a threat and to safeguard our home".

The letter said: "If the respondent were to proceed with such a claim, I would lose my home. The stress and anxiety of this threat on top of my enforced unemployment is simply too much and, regrettably, I have decided to withdraw my claim.

"As for the merits of the case, I remain firmly of the view that my claim was totally valid, as were my original claims. I would simply like to put on record that I believe that the respondent has used its economic might to bully me into this position having no regard for the effect it might have on my health or that of my partner."

Orbison will not receive any money from the commission.

Eyob Sellassie, founder and chair of African Aids Action, was found guilty Gift Aid fraud involving the charity of more than £100,000 at the Old Bailey in London earlier this month.

Orbison said at the time that the Sellassie verdict vindicated his concerns about the charity and called for an independent investigation into the commission’s handling of the case. The commission said it had no bearing over its employment tribunal case with Orbison.

The letter from Treasury Solicitors to Orbison said: "For the avoidance of doubt, this offer is in no way prompted by Mr Sellassie’s conviction, which bears no relevance whatsoever to these proceedings, but is an attempt at a pragmatic resolution of a low-value claim and where our costs in defending the claim would exceed what you could reasonably be expected to recover in the event that you succeeded."

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said: "We did seek to settle this case both to save Mr Orbison costs and so there were no further costs to the taxpayer."

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