Grant-making charity sued for tens of thousands of pounds by former chief and his church

A grant-making trust in Scotland is being sued for tens of thousands of pounds for anti-Christian bias by its former chief executive and a church it stopped renting one of its properties to.

The Robertson Trust, based in Glasgow, awards about £20m a year to charitable causes that focus on financial and emotional wellbeing and education and work pathways.

It has become embroiled in a discrimination row with its former chief executive, Kenneth Ferguson, who claims he was unfairly dismissed because of his Christian beliefs. 

The trust said this was not the case and that he was sacked for underperformance and a failure to disclose a conflict of interest.

Ferguson is seeking damages to the tune of almost £75,000 and a declaration that he was unfairly dismissed and discriminated against on the grounds of his religion.

Meanwhile in a separate action, Stirling Free Church, where Ferguson is an elder, is taking the trust to court for a further £60,000, alleging religious discrimination over the cancellation by the Robertson Trust of its rental of The Barracks Conference Centre in Stirling for Sunday services.

Both cases centre on the actions of Shonaig Macpherson, the trust's chair. 

Ferguson claims he was told by a colleague that Macpherson said the values of the church and the trust and were not compatible.

Within days of this comment the church was given notice to quit the conference centre property because the trust’s policy prevented rentals for activities promoting religion, it is alleged. 

Ferguson said he declared his involvement in the church on the trust’s register of interests, and recused himself from all negotiations about the rental.

He also said that his deteriorating relationship with Macpherson had a damaging impact of staff morale.

The church said the trust failed to provide a copy of the alleged policy preventing it from renting the conference centre.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the church wrote to the trust’s legal team, stating: “By your client’s actions, your client is in breach of the terms of the licence and is contrary to the Equality Act 2010.”

The letter also said the trust had discriminated against the church by treating it “less favourably” than it would treat others on account of their religion or belief.

In a statement on its website the trust said it was proud of its work with faith-based organisations.

Gerry McLaughlin, vice-chair of the Robertson Trust, said: “I am disappointed at the claim that the trust’s decision to dismiss the former chief executive was based on religious grounds when in fact the decision was taken based on continued, and documented, underperformance.

“The failure to disclose a conflict of interest when applying trust resources, and offering heavily subsidised rates to the Stirling Free Church, led to disciplinary action against the then-chief executive resulting in a final written warning, but not his dismissal.”

Ferguson’s case will be heard at Glasgow Employment Tribunal from 14 to 17 December.

The church’s case is expected to be heard in the spring.

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