The dismissal of the chief executive of CoolTan Arts over three claims of gross misconduct was “procedurally unfair” but “substantively fair”, a tribunal has ruled.
Michelle Baharier faced an investigation after the board received a number of allegations that she had undermined, threatened and bullied staff over a period of several years – claims which were upheld by the charity at a disciplinary hearing.
Baharier founded CoolTan Arts and was chair from 1997 until 2004 and chief executive from 2006 until 2015. She was suspended from her job in September 2015 and finally dismissed in May 2016.
An employment tribunal held in September, including a judge and two lay members, found that: “The respondent was entitled to summarily dismiss, having proved that the claimant committed an act of gross misconduct in respect of all three charges against her.”
It found that there were flaws in the dismissal procedure because disciplinary proceedings were chaired by Lilian Nalumansi, the chair of the charity, who had already pre-determined her views on Baharier’s misconduct. However it also found that if a neutral chair had carried out proceedings they would have reached the same conclusions.
A number of individuals who had worked at the charity made claims against Baharier, including Karen Unrue, who claimed, “I have watched her undermine, harass, threaten and generally bully staff for the last 2 years. I have seen staff reduced to tears, know staff who had to start counselling, and watched staff reluctantly realise they couldn’t take it anymore and leave CoolTan only because of the stress and anxiety caused by [Baharier’s] treatment of them”.
Shashi Deo, a former chair, said that she “went on a spree of sacking people whom she suspected of conspiring against her”.
The judgment did however find that Baharier had been subject to harassment by Deo, who she claimed made hurtful comments about her not having children, and had said: “At first your breast milk feeds the baby; now it is poisoning the baby”.
And it found there had been other occasions when she had faced harassment because of a disability – her dyslexia.
A remedy hearing will now take place.