Bank manager who breached trust of AIB wins unfair dismissal case

Tribunal reduces compensation payable due to ‘egregious’ behaviour

A bank manager who breached the trust of AIB and was fired, has won his case for unfair dismissal and has been awarded €25,000.

The action of Declan Maher, of Clifden, Co Galway, amounted to "a clear conflict of interest" and had warranted a serious sanction, but not dismissal, the Employment Appeals Tribunal has decided.

The Tribunal awarded him €25,000, but ruled that Mr Maher’s behaviour was so egregious as to require a significant reduction in the amount of compensation payable to him.

The Tribunal, sitting in Galway earlier this year heard that, following an extensive internal investigation, AIB ruled that a letter written by Mr Maher as bank manager of AIB Clifden was a letter of sanction for a $60m (€45 million) loan in principle to a company of which he was joint owner.

Mr Maher had worked for AIB for 28 years up to the time of his dismissal in 2011. His removal from his senior position in the bank followed the investigation into the letter he wrote in April, 2005, detailing the availability of funds to BMB Partnership for a property transaction in the US.

BMB Partnership was a joint venture between Mr Maher and Galway accountant Kevin Barry.

AIB’s general manager of operations, who reviewed the case, concluded that Mr Maher had engaged in unauthorised departures from the accepted procedures of the bank; breached his duty of trust and fidelity to the bank; irreparably injured the relationship of trust required between himself and his employer; exposed the bank to reputational damage; and exposed the bank to potential financial loss.

Mr Maher denied that the letter amounted to a loan sanction in principle, insisting it was a marketing letter to attract new business to the bank from people who had business interests in Florida.

He agreed that if he had to write the letter again he would be much more careful with the wording he used, but never thought for a moment that it would be “twisted and turned around” as had happened.

Such a big deal was made about the 2005 letter, yet none of the investors were asked if they had seen it, Mr Maher told the Tribunal.

He said that his dismissal had been both financially and psychologically devastating for him.

In its ruling, the Tribunal said that it had not been convinced that the letter amounted to a letter of sanction, but it described the issue of the letter as “entirely inappropriate” and more so when it was issued to an entity of which Mr Maher had an interest.

It pointed out that the initial disciplinary finding was flawed and the more appropriate sanction would have been to demote Mr Maher.

The Tribunal was not satisfied that the bank was exposed to reputational damage or exposed to potential financial loss.

It added in its determination: “The Tribunal is satisfied that the breach of trust and the clear conflict of interest warranted a serious sanction, but not dismissal.

“It is the finding of the Tribunal that the claimant (Mr Maher) was unfairly dismissed but that his behaviour was so egregious and of such a contributing factor as to warrant a significant reduction in the level of compensation payable. The Tribunal awards the claimant €25,000.”