No escaping justice in employment matters

by
30 January 2008

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From the Revd Alan Fraser
Sir, — I feel I must leap to the defence of Dr Elaine Storkey in the face of the serious charges levelled against her by the Revd Darren Moore (Letters, 25 January). The suggestion that she has failed to follow biblical standards in not seeking to resolve her dispute amicably with the college is unfair, as even the most cursory glance at the Church Times’s coverage of the dispute shows.

It is not contested — even by Wycliffe Hall — that Dr Storkey did indeed try to raise her grievances informally through the Hall’s own procedures, just as Fr Moore urges. Her reward (as he conveniently forgets to point out) was to be summarily dismissed without the college’s meeting its own obligations under those self-same procedures.

He then goes on to assume, without quoting any evidence, that it was Dr Storkey who was the obstacle to any seeking of Christian mediation. Given that the one consistent factor in the whole sorry saga of Wycliffe’s Hall’s ongoing travails seems to be a repeated refusal on the part of the college authorities ever to seek a mediated resolution to any of the innumerable staff difficulties that they have encountered, it seems at least as plausible to suggest that it might be the Hall that is at fault.

At the very least we should suspend judgement on the matter unless it is absolutely clear that mediation has been offered and refused.

I am chief executive of a Christian charity employing nearly 100 people. I have faced staff grievances, and have had to deal with serious disciplinary issues. I am under no illusions that employees are always the “victims” in employment disputes. But even when I have had to take difficult decisions, I hope I have demonstrated a commitment to justice for everyone (not just the individual sitting in front me) and a genuine pastoral concern for employees experiencing difficulties.

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But, more than that, I have also shown due respect to my Association’s policies and procedures for resolving such issues informally, and, crucially, for the law of the land. The attitude of Wycliffe Hall to these last two factors has been cavalier, to say the least. The Hall has admitted to serious and systemic breaches of the law regarding the treatment of Dr Storkey. It has clearly ignored large swaths of its own procedures for reasons that are far from clear. Had Dr Storkey not pursued her claim, it is unlikely these failings would ever have been publicly acknowledged.

We all have a right to expect Christian institutions to be paradigms of good behaviour. Wycliffe Hall’s grudging admission of guilt under threat of legal sanction falls well short of this. After the débâcle of Hereford, it seems to demonstrate that too often the Church wishes to treat people with equity and compassion only when to do so achieves an outcome with which it approves.

I would love to be able to treat the staff I like fairly, while summarily dismissing those whose behaviour I interpret as “awkward” or “provocative”. Unfortunately, the law doesn’t allow me to do that. More importantly, neither do the teachings of Jesus.

ALAN FRASER
Chief Executive
Birmingham YMCA
200 Bunbury Road
Birmingham B31 2DL

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