Three members of one family sacked from Brisbane’s Kimberley College have had their unfair dismissal claims thrown out.
The Fair Work Commission found each had been involved in serious financial misconduct.
In a damning decision, Commissioner Chris Simpson found the members of the Thomson family knowingly misspent hundreds of thousands of dollars of school funds on:
- extravagant first class overseas trips,
- personal loans,
- large pay rises,
- back pay scams,
- and unexplained cash withdrawals from a school debit card.
Family members sacked from Kimberley College driven by greed
Industrial advocate Miles Heffernan from Dismissals ‘R’ Us described the amounts involved as “eye-watering”.
“The evidence suggests the Thomson family considered the school bank account as their own private slush fund,” he said.
“And furthermore, it seems they used the money whenever and however they wanted.
“I am staggered they had the hide to file unfair dismissal claims, considering there is possible criminal conduct involved.
“I have never seen anything like this.”
Queensland Police confirmed to the Commission that it has commenced an investigation into the matter.
Last year, the Kimberley College Board sacked:
- Jennifer Thomson, the wife and personal assistant of sacked principal Paul Thomson,
- their daughter Amy Ferguson, who worked at the College as chief financial officer,
- and her partner, Kevin Ferguson, who worked as the school’s business manager.
The dismissals followed an independent audit into the schools finances ordered by the Board which found multiple instances of unauthorised spending.
The three family members argued the school denied them procedural fairness, and subsequently filed unfair dismissal claims.
The extravagant spending
Commissioner Simpson found a lack of proper oversight by the school’s Board over the Thomson family.
He said the lack of oversight resulted in the family “obtaining a range of extravagant personal benefits that they should never have enjoyed.”
The list is extensive and involves staggering amounts of money:
1. School debit card
Mrs Thomson earned a $130,000 salary to be the school’s administration officer and her husband’s personal assistant.
She could not explain why the school’s debit card had been used for a $10,410 cash withdrawal, and a further $106,814 in EFTPOS & Cheque payments.
2. Trip to Finland and the UK
A family holiday to Finland and the UK cost the school $350,945.
Claims by Mrs Thomson that the family had been paying off the trip were not true.
3. Trip to China
Ms Ferguson, her husband and children, took an unauthorised trip to China with members of the school’s football team at a cost of $120,000.
Additionally, someone transferred a total of $60,000 into the Ferguson’s bank accounts for “spending money” for the trip.
However, neither of the Ferguson’s could provide any evidence showing how they spent the money.
4. Trip to Dubai
Members of the family made an unauthorised trip to Dubai early in 2018 with members of the school’s football team at an estimated cost of $800,000.
Someone transferred $40,000 into accounts belonging to the Fergusons and Paul and Jenny Thomson for “spending money”.
5. Planned trip to Europe June 2018
The family used school funds to prepay for another family holiday to Europe in June 2018 – including $55,000 for airfares, $116,000 for luxury accommodation, and $101,000 for a cruise.
However, the trip never happened because the College’s Board sacked the family.
6. Family holiday to Noosa
Mr and Mrs Thomson enjoyed a $21,449 Noosa holiday paid for with the College debit card, in addition to an unexplained $5,000 cleaning fee.
7. Car loan paid off
In January 2017, Ms Ferguson transferred $55,644 from the College bank account to pay off her partner’s personal car lease.
8. Personal loans from the College
In November 2012, the College gave Ms Ferguson a loan of $100,000, and a further $30,010 for legal fees for a personal matter unrelated to the College.
She also received a series of further personal loans from the school totalling more than $227,000.
9. Loans paid off with back pay scam
Instead of paying back the loan money, Ms Ferguson engineered a scam by paying her partner $237,626 in what she described as “back pay”.
However, nine days later, he used that money to pay off Ms Ferguson’s loan to the school.
In other words, she used College money to pay back her loans to the school.
She argued her husband deserved the back pay when challenged about the scam.
10. $100,000 for fast food and take away
During 2017, someone transferred $131,692 from the College bank account to the Ferguson’s personal joint account.
The Commission heard the Ferguson’s spent the majority of these funds on fast food and take away.
11. Car lease
During 2015 and 2016, Ms Ferguson spent more than $30,000 of the College’s money to lease a Mini motor vehicle.
12. Unreasonable increase in salaries
Furthermore, the Commission found the Fergusons and Mrs Thomson knowingly spent school funds inappropriately to obtain unreasonable increases to their salaries.
13. Long service leave
Both Ms Ferguson and Mrs Thomson claimed payment for accrued long service leave on termination, despite previously receiving money for the leave.
Commissioner Simpson criticised the Kimberley College Board for its spectacular failure to provide proper oversight of the Thomson family in a scathing decision.
“It is apparent that for a considerable time good corporate governance simply did not exist at Kimberley College.
“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.
“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.”
Mr Simpson ultimately rejected the trio’s claim they had been denied procedural fairness.
Instead, he found the College Board had valid reasons for dismissing Mrs Thomson and Mr and Ms Ferguson.
Paul Thomson case continues
As for sacked principal Paul Thomson, he is currently suing Kimberley College in the Federal Circuit Court, demanding almost $1.5 million in compensation.
In response, Kimberley College is suing Mr and Mrs Thomson their daughter, Deborah Horn, an ex-deputy principal, and Mr and Ms Ferguson for $17 million.
UPDATE TO STORY
In September 2019, Queensland Police arrested Paul and Jennifer Thomson, and Kevin and Amy Ferguson.
75 year-old Paul Thomson is charged with six offences, including fraud, dishonestly causing detriment as an employee greater than $100,000, dishonest application of property of another greater than $100,000, extortion and computer hacking.
35-year-old Amy Ferguson is charged with fraud, perjury, computer hacking, dishonestly causing detriment as an employee greater than $100,000, and dishonestly gaining a detriment as an employee greater than $100,000.
34-year-old Kevin Ferguson is facing one count of fraud, dishonestly gaining benefit or advantage as an employee where the yield is greater than $100,000, and dishonest application of property of another greater than $100,000.
Meanwhile, 66-year-old Jennifer Thomson is charged with fraud, dishonestly causing a detriment as an employee greater than $100,000, and dishonestly gaining benefit or advantage as an employee where the yield is greater than $100,000.
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