Adoption chief accused of bullying (updated version)

An employment tribunal has heard a former employee of Baaf
Adoption and Fostering describe a management culture of bullying
and secrecy, writes Derren Hayes.

Sylvia Barker, a Baaf employee of 15-years, quit her job as the
organisation’s development officer last summer after what she
described as four years of “harassment” largely by Baaf’s
chief executive Felicity Collier.

Barker told the Croydon tribunal, which resumed on Thursday last
week to hear her claim of constructive dismissal, that Collier
continually criticised and “nit picked” her work and demoted her
for no apparent reason. The hearing started in April, but was

The tribunal heard that problems arose after Barker confronted
Collier over the issue of comments and concerns raised by staff in
committee meetings being omitted from official minutes.

Soon afterwards, Collier began disciplinary proceedings against
Barker over timekeeping records.

Barker, who had been off work between January and April 1998
with a serious infection, accused Collier of harassing her when she
was ill. Upon her return to work, she said Collier tried to force
her to retire, and draw a pension on ill health grounds.

She said Baaf warned her that if she returned to work,
disciplinary proceedings against her would be restarted, but if she
retired they would be dropped. She stayed and received a formal

In an emotional address to the tribunal, that saw her breakdown
in tears on a number of occasions, Barker said by the time she left
in October 2001 she had “lost hope in her situation ever changing”
and “couldn’t go on any longer”.

Richard Harrison, representing Baaf, said Barker had made claims
of excessive secrecy prior to Collier joining the organisation, and
said she had allowed her grievances to “fester”.

Harrison said a doctor had found it difficult to diagnose
Barker’s illness, and he said Collier had contacted Barker
when she was ill to simply enquire how she was.

He suggested it was reasonable for Collier to offer Barker
retirement based on her uncertain condition.

Harrison denied that Collier said Barker was unable to cope and
was totally disorganised. He also disputed the claim that she was

John Simmonds, director of policy, research and development at
Baaf, who was Barker’s line manager for the last 20 months of her
employment, told the tribunal he saw no evidence of bullying and
harassment. He also said Barker could not accept Collier’s plans
for modernisation.

In a statement issued outside the tribunal, Baaf’s
vice-chairperson Anthony Douglas said: “I wish to confirm that the
trustees completely reject the allegations made by the applicant
about the organisation and her claim that she was constructively

“Baaf is a thriving and well-managed voluntary organisation and
we have absolute confidence in the chief executive and her
management team,” he said.

The case has been adjourned until December.

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