Changes to draft investigation report did not render dismissal unfair
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has held in Dronsfield v The University of Reading that an investigator's removal of information from a draft investigation report did not render the claimant's dismissal unfair.
Dr Dronsfield was a professor at the University of Reading who admitted to having a sexual relationship with one of his students. The dismissal of university staff was governed by the University's statutes and required that misconduct meriting dismissal had to be "conduct of an immoral, scandalous or disgraceful nature incompatible with the duties of the office or employment". The investigation report, which was relied on by the disciplinary panel to dismiss Dr Dronsfield, was compiled by a head of department, Professor Green, and a member of the HR team. Initial drafts were reviewed by the University's in-house lawyer, and the final version of the report omitted some findings which would have been favourable to Dr Dronsfield. Following a disciplinary hearing Dr Dronsfield was dismissed for gross misconduct, and when his appeal was dismissed he brought a claim for unfair dismissal.
A tribunal found that he had been fairly dismissed, but, on appeal, the EAT remitted the case back to a fresh tribunal to consider whether the comments were left out of the final investigation report because Professor Green had changed his opinion, or for another reason. The fresh tribunal found that Dr Dronsfield's dismissal had been fair, and that it was reasonable for Professor Green and the member of HR to act on the advice of the university's solicitor and change the focus of their conclusions in the report, limiting them to whether there was a case to answer, and removing evaluative opinions of Dr Dronsfield's conduct. The tribunal found that the amendments did not mean that a false or incomplete position was set out in the report.
The EAT agreed with the tribunal's evaluation. There was no suggestion that any evidential material had been withheld from the investigation report and therefore not put before the disciplinary panel, and submissions about the changes to the investigation report had been made and considered at the internal appeal stage.
Take note: Dronsfield emphasises that it is the role of the investigator to determine whether there is a case to answer, and it is important that the report is focussed on this issue. Evaluative opinions should be left to the disciplinary panel.