Rolls-Royce has been accused of sacking a senior engineer after he blew the whistle on allegations of potentially serious problems with the company’s jet engines.
Hilmi Kurt-Elli, who was a senior design engineer, claimed at an employment tribunal on Tuesday that he was dismissed after raising safety concerns with chief executive John Rishton.
The company said it had thoroughly investigated Kurt-Elli’s claims, which relate to alleged errors in computer modeling used in designing engines, and found “no evidence to substantiate product or safety integrity concerns.”
Rolls-Royce said Kurt-Elli was not sacked for blowing the whistle, but for his unreasonable attitude and the total breakdown of his relationship with colleagues and senior executives.
Rolls-Royce human resources director Kath Durrant told the tribunal in Nottingham, England, she was horrified when she read Kurt-Elli’s letter to Rishton outlining “a set of extraordinary allegations.”
“I took your claims very seriously,” she told Kurt-Elli. “A genuine whistleblower coming to us should expect to be taken very seriously, and that is what I did. We would have been on your side.”
Durrant said investigators were called in to investigate Kurt-Elli’s claims, first made in October 2011, and Rishton was briefed on their progress.
She said Kurt-Elli refused to accept the investigators’ verdict that there was no evidence of any safety problem, and he went on to accuse Rishton and other senior executives of “corruption, potentially illegal acts and behaving unethically.”
Durrant said Kurt-Elli alleged that “multiple layers of management were involved in a conspiracy to cover up information.”
Kurt-Elli, who was Rolls’ vibration specialist until he was dismissed in February 2012, said it was his case “that the CEO and yourself [Durrant] conducted a sham investigation. It was designed specifically to not uncover the truth.”
“Dr Kurt-Elli starts from the basis that everybody in the company is corrupt. I started from wanting to understand what was going on here,” Durrant said.
Durrant said the company had no choice but to dismiss Kurt-Elli after he refused to accept the outcome of the investigation and continued to make serious allegations against “so many people.”
“The claimant made personal attacks on everyone who would not agree with his position,” she said. “I’ve never seen such language used against colleagues. There was no relationship on which we could continue.”
Kurt-Elli, representing himself at the tribunal, said: “People have lied, people have misled.”
He also alleged that the firm not follow a proper dismissal procedure. Rolls-Royce said the dismissal was carried out correctly.
Tribunal judge Richard Hutchinson said: “We have to decide whether you were dismissed because you made a protected disclosures [blew the whistle], or if it had all to do with your behavior, not the disclosure.
“They say you made unfounded allegations about your work colleagues leading them to believe you could no longer work in the organization. If we decide it was because of the protected disclosure, they are in trouble,” Hutchinson said.
The tribunal continues.