Major grant-maker unfairly dismissed chief executive because he opposed gay marriage, tribunal rules

Kenneth Ferguson, who led the Robertson Trust for nine years, is an elder of Stirling Free Church, which is against same-sex marriage

Kenneth Ferguson
Kenneth Ferguson

Scotland’s largest independent grant-making trust unfairly dismissed its former chief executive because he opposed gay marriage, an employment tribunal has ruled.

The tribunal heard that Kenneth Ferguson was sacked by the Robertson Trust after Stirling Free Church, of which Ferguson is an elder, signed an agreement to hire premises owned by the charity.

The tribunal heard that Shonaig Macpherson, chair of the charity, had been angry when she had found out about the arrangement because of the church’s views on gay marriage.

This led to a “sham” disciplinary procedure that resulted in Ferguson being dismissed by the charity in March 2020 after nine years’ service, the tribunal was told.

Ferguson, who had absented himself from the discussions relating to the venue hire because of a conflict of interest, had previously received positive feedback on his performance in his role.

The judgment says that after finding out about the arrangement, Macpherson sent an email to trustees raising the issue of the church’s views on homosexuality and gay marriage.

“The arrangement with the church does not fit with the Robertson Trust’s values and will offend staff, grant holders and stakeholders generally as well as harming our reputation,” she said.

Macpherson denied Ferguson had been dismissed because of his views but the tribunal concluded her evidence was “not sufficiently reliable”.

The charity, which is Scotland’s largest independent grant-making trust and gives out about £20m in grants each year, said it was disappointed and deeply saddened by the findings.

Gerry McLaughlin, vice-chair of the Robertson Trust, said: “While we are disappointed by the tribunal’s ruling, we need time to reflect on a long and complex judgement before making further comment.

“We are deeply saddened by some of the tribunal’s findings. Our priority now is to turn our attention to reassure the organisations we fund – including many faith-based organisations – that we will continue to support and work alongside them as, together, we work towards helping people and places facing poverty and trauma in Scotland.”

In a statement, Ferguson said justice had been done. “I’m just relieved this is over. It’s been a very difficult time for me and my family. I was treated by The Robertson Trust in a way I had never been treated before in my whole professional life.

“The tribunal has ruled that it was wrong to behave that way and I’m grateful.”

A date for a hearing to decide the compensation Ferguson should receive is yet to be set.

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