The former director of education at St Patrick’s College has won a claim for unfair dismissal after he was sacked by the institution, the biggest private college in England and now part of a group that recently bought the University of Law.
Raj Kumaran was sacked from St Patrick’s in September 2014 on a charge of gross misconduct. The charge related to his sending an email at the request of Girish Chandra, who was chief executive at the college at the time, requesting that the Student Loans Company switch fee payments for students into a different bank account, the tribunal heard.
Mr Chandra, the former owner of the college, had become involved in a “dispute” with the new owners of the college and “significant amounts of revenue” came from the SLC, noted employment judge Andrew Spencer, who heard the case at the Central London Employment Tribunal on 24 and 25 June.
St Patrick’s received £51 million in fees via the government-owned SLC in 2012-13 and 2013-14, more than any other private college.
Judge Spencer ruled that Mr Kumaran had been unfairly dismissed and ordered that Interactive World Wide Limited, which owned the college at the time, pay him a total award of £85,991, plus £1,200 in tribunal fees.
Mr Kumaran had an “unblemished disciplinary record” after working at the college since 1999, the judge said.
St Patrick’s and Interactive World Wide Limited were named as the two respondents in the case, but Judge Spencer dismissed the claim against the former after hearing that Mr Kumaran had signed a fresh contract with the latter after the takeover.
Since his dismissal, ownership of St Patrick’s has passed to Global University Systems, which recently bought the University of Law. Aaron Etingen, the chief executive of GUS, is the majority shareholder of Interactive World Wide Limited under the name Arkady Etingen, which he is also known by, according to Companies House documents.
The tribunal heard that Mr Chandra sold St Patrick’s to Interactive World Wide Limited in 2012 but retained a 5 per cent shareholding and stayed on as college chief executive.
Mr Chandra, giving evidence as a witness for Mr Kumaran, told the tribunal that he had wanted SLC payments to be switched from one college account into another where he had “more visibility” on funds.
In a letter from his employers dismissing his appeal against his sacking, Mr Kumaran was told that the new account into which SLC funds were switched was a personal account belonging to Mr Chandra, Judge Spencer noted.
But Judge Spencer said that he was satisfied from evidence that the new account was actually one held by St Patrick’s, into which college fees had been paid in the past.
Judge Spencer said that there was “no evidence produced to me to show the respondent checked the bank account details to identify whether in fact Mr Chandra had induced the Student Loans Company to send money to an alternative college account rather than a third party account”.
Judge Spencer also said that “no attempt was made to interview Mr Chandra concerning the instruction he gave to the claimant” during the college’s disciplinary investigation.
These were “in my view steps which any reasonable employer would have taken in these circumstances”, said the judge.
Judge Spencer said that there would be no reduction in Mr Kumaran’s award for contributory conduct by him, as it was “a case where the claimant had merely acted on the instructions of his CEO”.