After two years, Simmonds legal case approaches its end-game

CROYDON IN CRISIS: A council committee is to meet in secret later this week, potentially to discuss whether the authority should settle out-of-court over allegations of race discrimination and victimisation brought by a former senior employee

Personal complaint: CEO Katherine Kerswell might have had to face allegations in open court

Croydon Council’s Employment Tribunal case against a former senior executive could be about to collapse. A move to settle the case would avoid Katherine Kerswell, the council’s £192,000 per year chief executive, from having to face allegations of racism in open court.

A meeting of the council’s appointments and disciplinary committee has been hurriedly summoned for Thursday, under the heading “Confidential staffing matter – An update”.

It has been suggested that the meeting, to be chaired by Mayor Jason Perry, has been called to approve the council withdrawing from the serious Employment Tribunal case that had been brought against it by former executive director Hazel Simmonds.

Simmonds was one of four execs who were suspended in February 2021 by the then new council CEO, Kerswell while their part in the council’s multi-million pound financial collapse was to be investigated. No disciplinary action has ever been taken against any of them: three quit their Croydon jobs that year (a fourth never returned from long-term sick leave).

Simmonds did not resign until September 2022, and she embarked on a grievance counter-action against the council for race discrimination, victimisation and unlawful reduction in wages. She also made a separate racism complaint against Kerswell individually.

In May this year, Simmonds won one part of her case, when it was shown that the council had acted unlawfully in reducing her pay while she was suspended from duty. The cash-strapped council was ordered to give Simmonds £15,000 in back-pay.

That ought to have given Kerswell and her legal advisers in Fisher’s Folly a bit of a clue that they might not have too strong a case to defend against Simmonds, in most respects at least.

Whatever the discussion at Thursday’s committee meeting, the Simmonds’ legal case against the council is approaching its end-game. The rest of her case was slated for a three-week hearing at the ET in December.

Day in court: former council exec Hazel Simmonds’ ET case was due to last three weeks in December

It is impossible to know with certainty if Thursday’s appointments committee meeting, with a single item on its agenda, has been called to discuss the Simmonds case.

That’s because our non-transparent council is refusing to release any details of the top-secret meeting, beyond saying, “The Part B (exempt) version of this report updates the committee on an ongoing confidential staffing matter.

“The report contains confidential personal data and confidential legal advice and therefore the entirety of the report is exempt.”

Oh, how Croydon’s civic servants love a confidentiality excuse for keeping things secret and stopping the public discovering their latest clusterfuck.

Councillor members of the committee – including Labour’s Stuart King, Callton Young and Enid Mollyneux, and Tories Lynne Hale and Jason Cummings – are sworn to secrecy on pain of death, or worse. Kerswell and her deputy CEO, Elaine Jackson, plus the hapless legal director, Stephen Lawrence-Orumwense, are also expected to attend – so it is fair to assume that this is not a trivial matter.

The Simmonds complaint was filed more than 14 months ago, so Kerswell has been accumulating legal costs all that time.

The prolonged disciplinary process brought against Simmonds had been used by Kerswell as an excuse for failing to action the findings of the Penn Report, which had investigated the conduct of several senior figures at the council.

Given the serious nature of the allegations made by Simmonds against the council and Kerswell, settling out-of-court now is unlikely to come cheap.

There may be a “compensation” payment to be agreed, and then there will be an NDA – a non-disclosure agreement – for Simmonds to sign to buy her silence, which will also come at a price (but will serve to stop the truth coming out). And Simmonds’ own lawyers could also make an application to the Tribunal judge for her legal costs. All of which would ultimately be paid by Croydon’s long-suffering Council Tax-payers.

Simmonds was promoted to her £150,000 per year role of “executive director of Gateway, strategy and engagement” in 2018 by the council’s then chief exec, Jo “Negreedy” Negrini.

Depending on what is agreed at Thursday’s council committee meeting, since Simmonds’ settlement will be in respect of more than a single year, she could even walk away with more than her erstwhile boss, Negrini, received in 2020.

That now-notorious £437,000 pay-off was also decided behind closed doors and in secret.

The only person likely to attend this week’s appointments committee and who was also at the August 2020 meeting that pushed through Negrini’s astronomic pay-off was… Jason Perry.

Read more: Conflicts of interest, incomplete contracts, unlawful payments
Read more: Council exec Simmonds quits after 18 months ‘gardening leave’
Read more: A level of ineptitude which would be tolerated nowhere else

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This entry was posted in Croydon Council, Guy van Dichele, Hazel Simmonds, Jacqueline Harris-Baker, Katherine Kerswell, Lisa Taylor, Mayor Jason Perry, Shifa Mustafa and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to After two years, Simmonds legal case approaches its end-game

  1. Ian Bridge says:

    She does not have to accept any out of court offer though

    • Ian Kierans says:

      No but if she does not, there is a danger that even if she wins and the award is less than was offered that could be something her legal team will make her aware of.

  2. Ian Kierans says:

    So many law firms advise employees and former employees who feel that they have been discriminated against to concentrate primarily on their actual losses when setting their expectations as to what they might recover from the tribunal, if their claim is successful.

    Defendants pay more or less than an average award as the reputational damage of discrimination claims is a factor to them (not to mention career limiting to those at fault) but it is finely balanced. Many settle due to those ambiguities and risks. Many also settle as the cost of defending is greater than the compensation (usually smaller cases) even if the have a good case and feel they have done nothing wrong.

    And thats the rub.
    Public interest cases that call on the taxpayer to payout as a Public body is not being fair to employee’s should actually be held in public. But individual cases are just that indivdual and personal.

    It is not always an intent by the employer to actually discriminate againt a person but it happens anyway by an errant staff members mistakes, by the default of not taking care when making recisions, or not heeding advice and taking the risk in a cavalier manner.

    For the taxpayer it really does not matter. If they pay out on an NDA compromise agreement or in open Court its still money not going to the services it was given to fund.

    The actual issue is that taxpayers money is being spent on compensation for a failure of administration and decision making that engendered the situation in the first place. Just like all those judicial reviews and tribunals differrent departments at the Council have lost. That is what 70 Councillors need to be asking and set right to prevent more events happening.

    I try not to just blame the administrator, albeit they may be culpable.

    It is always easy to manage things when you have resources, experienced people, great support systems and a ton of money.

    To do the same with scarce resource, few people, crap communication, poor training as no budget money for that left, junior staff taking on three times the workload, systems and processes not being updated as those that do them are gone and no one sent the memo, crashing digital systems that are not well maintained anymore as people left, and two old pennies rubbing the rust off in the coffee jar takes a big person with huge leadership skills and can motivate those left to a performance peak.
    That job is a nightmare and it is a lot more difficult but to succeed is a massive achievement and for those that are so inclined worthy of an honour.

    If you came in as Ms Kerswell did as perhaps an interim and change agent where you can cut and run afterwards – you do not get the flack.
    But she stayed on as the permanent CEO and so faces the music for those cuts she had to impose. We do not know her reasons but that does take a bit of backbone to do knowing full well whats coming at you.

    Does not make what happens to residents any better? No- nor has her leadership, but it makes what comes out of the Folly more understandable even if still very shoddy treatment of taxpaying residents.

    I do hope we get to know what went on and the cases merits as it is important for the Borough to know the details right or wrong.

    But honestly Ms Simmonds feels she suffered the injury and therefore it is her choice and we should respect that, no matter her decision. The same way that Mayor Perry and those at that meeting are looking at the best way to move on from what has been done and the best use of what pennies are left.
    We do not like it but there are constraints on both sides we should recognise.

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