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Informatica UKI veep was rightfully sacked over Highways England $5k golf jolly, says tribunal

Underling took customer on bucket list trip - and VP signed it off without checking

Informatica's former UK & Ireland vice president was correctly sacked after letting a salesman take Highways England's executive IT director on a $5,000 golfing jaunt, the Employment Appeal Tribunal has ruled.

Not only did Derek Thompson breach Informatica's anti-corruption policies but he also warned underlings to "be discreet" about the jolly – and told HR investigators "Why does anyone do any customer entertainment?" when asked how playing golf benefited the business.

Thompson lost his appeal against a judge's earlier ruling [PDF] that his October 2017 sacking was reasonable, with the Employment Appeal Tribunal publishing its judgment [PDF] last week.

Highways England's executive IT director Tony Malone was invited to speak at an Informatica conference in 2017. Highways England had signed a $4.8m contract with the US software development firm the previous year. Keen to impress the customer, Informatica salesman Colin Grey suggested he accompany Malone to California's Pebble Beach Golf Club so Malone could tick it off his "bucket list".

Thompson cleared the jolly with senior EMEA veep Steve Murphy – but didn't check back in with Murphy when the likely cost of the overnight stay became clear before the conference, reasoning that the "cat was out of the bag" and the company couldn't retract its invite to the Highways England manager.

Informatica spent $5,400 on a one-night stay for Malone at the club, including dinner, green fees and a private hotel transfer on top of costing around $2,000, with Employment Judge Vowles noting in his 2020 ruling: "The Pebble Beach Golf Club is a very expensive venue, and widely known to be so, being one of the top golf clubs in the US."

Internal auditors at Informatica immediately flagged up the transaction and bosses hauled Thompson in for various grillings that culminated in a disciplinary hearing where he was sacked, in October 2017.

Informatica's anti-bribery policy, which Thompson had signed to indicate he had read, mentioned both the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the UK's Bribery Act 2010. Both laws prohibit trying to bribe or influence government personnel.

Mr Justice Cavanagh, giving the Employment Appeal Tribunal's judgment, ruled that Thompson had broken the US section of the policy. Malone was not American and therefore was a foreign official for the purposes of the US-headquartered company – regardless of Thompson being a Briton employed in Britain for a British subsidiary and entertaining a British government official. He didn't even go on the golf trip himself.

Thompson's main four grounds of appeal were all dismissed by Mr Justice Cavanagh. They included that Employment Judge Vowles, who originally ruled against Thompson, had made a finding of gross misconduct that was "perverse"; that the judge had got it wrong when he found Thompson had "wilful disregard" for Informatica's anti-corruption policy; that it was an error in law to reject the principle that Thompson should have been told the case he had to meet when facing disciplinary proceedings that could result in dismissal; and, finally, that the ruling had misinterpreted the Anti-Corruption Policy.

Thompson also contended that the judge hadn't been clear enough explaining his initial ruling.

"Expenditure could be a 'prohibited payment' even if there was no intention to provide a bribe or corrupt payment," concluded Mr Justice Cavanagh. ®

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