Immigration whistleblower was unfairly dismissed

Tribunal upholds claim of registrar who lost job after 'protected disclosure', Melanie Newman writes

August 13, 2009

An academic registrar at the UK branch of an Iranian university was unfairly dismissed for blowing the whistle on alleged immigration irregularities, the Employment Appeal Tribunal has found.

An earlier tribunal had already judged that the process under which Heidi El-Megrisi was made redundant from her post at the Islamic Azad University was "essentially a sham".

In November 2006, Ms El-Megrisi sent a memo to Ahad Bagherzadeh, pro vice-chancellor of the Oxford-based branch and now its vice-chancellor, expressing concerns over the immigration status of some members of staff.

The memo led to a meeting with Alireza Assareh, at that time the institution's vice-chancellor, on 5 December. Some weeks later, Ms El-Megrisi was made redundant.

A tribunal held in 2008 said: "We have come to the clear and unanimous conclusion that the reason for the claimant's dismissal was not due to redundancy and, indeed, that the professed 'redundancy situation' was a manufactured means to disguise the real reason for the claimant's dismissal."

The university had dismissed Ms El-Megrisi because it saw her as a nuisance who would not "willingly undertake the questionable tasks ... that were assigned to her", it said.

However, last year's tribunal did not uphold Ms El-Megrisi's claim that she was unfairly dismissed for making a "protected disclosure" - in effect, whistleblowing.

It said that although the memo of November 2006 was a protected disclosure, it was not the principal reason for the dismissal as she had a history of difficulties with Azad.

But in a judgment handed down earlier this year, the appeal tribunal criticised the earlier decision for failing to take into account the fact that this history "largely consisted of other protected disclosures".

In correspondence with senior staff during 2005 and 2006, the registrar claimed she had been asked to write a letter to the immigration authorities falsely stating that Dr Assareh's son was a student at the university. She refused to write the letter, she said, which led to her being viewed as "unhelpful".

In another exchange with a senior colleague, she alleged that there were "irregularities" surrounding the issue of a work permit for a senior manager, which caused her "great concern".

In later correspondence, Ms El-Megrisi also referred to concerns over Dr Assareh's work permit.

The first tribunal should have considered whether the cumulative impact of these allegations resulted in the dismissal, the appeal tribunal said. It concluded that this was the case.

However, it did not alter the £16,000 award made to Ms El-Megrisi in 2008.

A university spokeswoman said: "At the culmination of a long hearing of the issues, the employment tribunal (in 2008) found the vast majority of the claims to be unfounded, including claims for sex and race discrimination and equal pay."

The spokeswoman added that the university "felt that the (initial) tribunal's judgment that there had been no protected disclosure by Ms El-Megrisi was correct".

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