Sacked college staff lose unfair dismissal claims

Logan's Kimberley College was functioning as if it was privately owned by the Thomson family, a Fair Work Commissioner found as he rejected the unfair dismissal claims of three family members.

The Commissioner said after regulatory authorities were told of the misconduct, it raised serious consideration about whether Kimberley College should be allowed to continue to operate.

Jennifer Thomson, the wife of sacked ex-principal Paul Thomson, their daughter Amy Ferguson, the college's ex-chief financial officer, and her partner Kevin Ferguson, the ex-business manager, were sacked in June last year.

In his decision, Commissioner Chris Simpson said all three were knowingly involved in inappropriately spending school funds on overseas trips and a Noosa holiday and to increase their salaries.

He found Mrs Thomson, administration officer and the principal's personal assistant, on a $130,000-a-year salary, was involved in inappropriate use of a college debit card.

"Despite the college being a substantial business enterprise, it is apparent from the evidence that the college was functioning almost as if it was privately owned by the Thomson family,'' Mr Simpson said.

 

Mr and Mrs Ferguson were found to have benefited from $131,692 of school funds transferred to their own account in 2017. Pictured, Kevin Ferguson. Picture: Facebook
Mr and Mrs Ferguson were found to have benefited from $131,692 of school funds transferred to their own account in 2017. Pictured, Kevin Ferguson. Picture: Facebook

 

He said the independent college, with 900 students, had a vast array of legal obligations and accountabilities.

"It is apparent that for a considerable time good corporate governance simply did not exist at Kimberley College,'' Mr Simpson said in his decision.

The balance of power between management - mainly principal Paul Thomson and daughter Amy Ferguson - and the directors was "completely out of kilter'', Mr Simpson said.

Virtually all management decisions were being made without any proper oversight by the Board, allowing members of the wider Thomson family to take full advantage.

They obtained a range of "extravagant personal benefits that they should never have enjoyed'', Mr Simpson said.

He found all three were involved in inappropriately spending school funds on trips to Finland, the United Kingdom and Dubai and on a planned Spain and Sweden trip that was cancelled.

Mr and Mrs Ferguson spent school funds on a China trip and they and their four children and Mr and Mrs Thompson enjoyed a $21,449 Noosa holiday, all paid for with a college credit card.

Mr and Mrs Ferguson were found to have benefited from $131,692 of school funds transferred to their own account in 2017.

They used school funds to pay Mr Ferguson's car leasing loan and on a series of personal loans to Mrs Ferguson from 2012, Mr Simpson said.

Mr Simpson found Mrs Ferguson was involved in engineering a sham back pay arrangement to repay her own personal loans.

Kimberley College’s sacked former chief financial officer, Amy Ferguson, who has lost her unfair dismissal claim.
Kimberley College’s sacked former chief financial officer, Amy Ferguson, who has lost her unfair dismissal claim.

He said she and Mrs Thompson claimed for long service leave for which they had already been paid.

Mr Simpson rejected claims that the three were denied procedural fairness and found Kimberley College had valid reasons for dismissing Mrs Thomson and Mr and Mrs Ferguson.

A Detective Senior Constable who attended the unfair dismissal hearing told Mr Simpson that that there had been a police investigation into matters concerning Mr and Mrs Ferguson and Mrs Thompson. However, no charges have been laid.

Since his dismissal, Paul Thomson has sued Kimberley College in Federal Circuit Court, asking for almost $1.5 million in compensation for his sacking.

Kimberley College is suing Mr and Mrs Thomson their daughter, Deborah Horn, an ex-deputy principal, and Mr and Mrs Ferguson for $17 million.

Kimberley College Board chairman Mike Millard said the misconduct uncovered at the school was so serious at the time that it caused regulators and other stakeholders, including the school board, to consider the future of the school.

Mr Millard said as a result of an extensive reform program, there was a new board, a new principal and other key management staff had been retained.

The board had undertaken extensive consultation with relevant regulators, including the Non-State School Accreditation Board and Commonwealth Department of Education and Training, to ensure that they were satisfied that the school was operating appropriately.

Mr Millard said the concerns that the Commissioner expressed had been addressed and were in the past.



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