Friday 18 January 2019

Former chief executive of charity was unfairly dismissed and should be reinstated, WRC rules

Barbara Flynn
Barbara Flynn

Gordon Deegan

THE former chief executive of charity Ataxia Ireland was unfairly dismissed from her post, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has found.

In his ruling, WRC Adjudication Officer, Eugene Hanly has ordered that Barbara Flynn be re-instated into her role and that her outstanding remuneration be paid to her.

In her role since December 2001, Ms Flynn was dismissed for gross misconduct on March 30th of this year and the amount owed to her in pay would be around €43,190 based on her monthly pay of €5,390.

Mr Hanly has also ordered the charity to pay Ms Flynn €9,950 as she was entitled to eight weeks’ notice.

However, it is not clear if Ms Flynn will have any job to go back to as a letter from Ataxia Ireland to the WRC stated that the charity is in the process of closing down and the process is almost complete.

Ataxia is a term for a group of disorders that affect co-ordination, balance and speech. In severe cases it can be fatal.

Mr Hanly made his ruling that Ms Flynn's dismissal was substantially and procedurally unfair based on the uncontested evidence of Ms Flynn over her dismissal as the charity did not attend the WRC hearing.

Mr Hanly stated that as the charity did not attend, it had not discharged the burden of proof and he is obliged to accept the complainant’s uncontested evidence.

In his ruling, Mr Hanly found that the employer did not carry out a detailed disciplinary investigation due to the standoff that developed between the two parties.

Mr Hanly stated: “I find that as a result the Complainant was unable to defend herself.”

The charity announced its closure in May of this year stating that it “no longer has the trust of its members or the wider public and this makes fundraising impossible both currently and into the future”.

Ataxia Ireland was set up in 1980 to support people and families living with Friedreichs Ataxia, a genetic and progressive disorder of the central nervous system .

However, the charity was plunged into crisis in 2017 after a report by inspectors from the Charities Regulator uncovered €84,009 in payments to the founders of the charity, former Trustees and parents of Ms Flynn, Clare and Tim Creedon.

The report also highlighted  €38,000 in payments being made to Ms Flynn’s pension fund from charity funds rather than being deducted from her salary.

In November 2017, Ms Flynn brought judicial review proceedings in the High Court challenging the findings of the Charities Regulator’s inspectors’ report.

Ms Flynn told the High Court that her parents initially worked for the charity on an entirely voluntary basis for almost 25 years and 13 years respectively.

On October 4th 2017, Ms Flynn was suspended by the charity pending an independent investigation.

The charity later abandoned the independent investigation following Ms Flynn commencing her judicial review proceedings.

However, in February 2018, the charity launched a fresh investigation into the payments to Ms Flynn’s parents and the pension payments to her.

On March 30th, Ms Flynn was informed by the charity in writing that she was being dismissed for gross misconduct as trust had irretrievably broken.

However, Ms Flynn told the WRC that she was not given an opportunity to defend herself or  offered the right of appeal.

Ms Flynn claimed that was denied fair procedure and natural justice.

At the hearing, when asked about the €38,000 pension over-payment, Ms Flynn stated that this overpayment was caused by a software error.

Ms Flynn accepted that an overpayment was made and she offered to repay €500 per month and given the tax relief granted the outstanding sum was €19,000.

On the payments to her parents, Ms Flynn stated that her father received the payments from 2005 to 2015 and her mother from 1990s to 2016.

She stated that the charity was founded by them and run from their home and that these payments were approved by the Management Committee and received approval from the Auditor and Revenue.

Ms Flynn pointed out that a full Revenue audit was conducted in 2012 and it was found to be okay.

In terms of looking for new work, Ms Flynn stated that she has applied for positions in UCD, The Hermitage Clinic, Blackrock Clinic and Sandyford Estate, without success.

Ms Flynn stated that she has applied for 20/30 jobs in the last six months and has not worked since the date of dismissal.

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