Whistleblowers can be protected against victimisation even if they raised the alarm before public interest disclosure laws came into force last year, a tribunal chair has ruled.
Setting a precedent in higher education's first known claim of victimisation under the Public Interest Disclosure Act, Nottingham employment tribunal chairman Mr J. MacMillan said it did not matter that the disclosures were made before the act came into force so long as the alleged detriment suffered by the whistleblower continued afterwards.
The ruling came on the first day of a week-long case against Derby University, which is accused of victimising Mark Challinor after he raised the alarm over shortcomings at the university's multimillion-pound franchise operation in Israel.
Derby University tried to have the case thrown out immediately on the grounds that disclosures were made in 1998, before the act came into force on July 2 1999. The act protects whistleblowers when they have made certain types of disclosure.
Mr MacMillan ruled: "The ramifications of detriment can continue long after the action which is their trigger." He said the university's argument would create an "absurdity". "What the tribunal is obliged to focus on is not the date of the disclosure but the detriment suffered."
The tribunal heard that Mr Challinor suffered from a "relentless campaign and on-going policy of the university to undermine and marginalise him" after he raised questions about problems with the university's franchise arrangements with Inter College in Israel. Mr Challinor had been the Israel project coordinator, but he had complained to his managers that admissions procedures were being breached.
"We say that Inter College was rather more concerned with commercial considerations than quality, and the University of Derby's reaction was to shoot the messenger," said Mr Challinor's counsel, Jacque Algazy.
Mr Challinor was removed from the project and was made redundant in July 1999.
The university argues that Mr Challinor did not suffer detriment as a result of any disclosures. The case continues.