CBI settles legal action brought by sacked boss Tony Danker

The CBI business group has settled legal action brought by its former boss Tony Danker for wrongful dismissal.

Mr Danker was sacked with immediate effect in 2023 following complaints about his behaviour.

His exit came as other separate allegations of historical misconduct at the lobby group were uncovered but were unconnected to Mr Danker.

The CBI confirmed it had agreed an "undisclosed settlement" with its former director-general.

The organisation, which claims to represent the interests of 170,000 businesses across the UK, also reiterated on Monday that Mr Danker was not associated with historical claims.

The CBI, one of the UK's most prominent lobby groups, was plunged into crisis last year following allegations of rape and sexual assault. It led to dozens of its direct members - including John Lewis, BMW and Virgin Media O2 - as well as thousands more via trade associations, quitting the group,

Events were postponed and the government halted engagement over economic and business policy discussions with the group, prompting fears over its funding and survival.

Before these misconduct allegations emerged, Mr Danker faced separate claims about his behaviour and stepped aside while an investigation began in March last year.

He was criticised for taking female colleagues to a karaoke bar, inviting young female colleagues to one-to-one breakfast meetings, as well as following and commenting on social media posts and sending personal messages on work platforms. He was sacked in April 2023.

Mr Danker acknowledged in a BBC interview after his dismissal that he had made some staff feel "very uncomfortable", adding: "I apologise for that."

But he claimed he had been made "the fall guy" for the wider crisis engulfing the CBI and that his reputation had been "totally destroyed".

Brian McBride, the then-CBI president, told the BBC after Mr Danker's departure that he was "welcome to take his case to an employment tribunal or the courts if thinks he has been mistreated".

He also said that Mr Danker's description of events was "selective".

It is understood Mr Danker eventually took his case to Bruce Carr KC, author of the Carr Review on industrial disputes.

On Monday, the CBI said it had settled the case, adding that its board "also reiterates that Mr Danker is not associated in any way with the historical allegations reported in the media concerning matters which pre-date his tenure at the CBI and rejects any such association".

If an employee has an issue with their dismissal, there are two types of legal action they can take. One is via an employment tribunal to assess whether the reasons why a person was dismissed were fair or unfair, or through a High Court action to assess whether how a person was dismissed was contractually appropriate.

Mr Danker's case appears to be the latter and while the settlement seems to be a vindication of sorts for him, it does not amount to an admission from the CBI that the grounds for his dismissal were unfair.

Rosemary Connolly, an employment lawyer, told the BBC wrongful dismissal claims arise where an employer has breached an "aspect of the employee's contract at the time of dismissal".

"Generally speaking this could relate to non-payment of notice or not permitting the employee to participate in a contractual disciplinary process," she said.

Born in Belfast, Mr Danker took charge of the CBI in November 2020.

Dame Carolyn Fairbairn was the previous director-general between 2015 and 2020 - the period when alleged sexual misconduct, including a rape at a CBI summer party in 2019, occurred.

He had previously spent 10 years as a consultant with McKinsey, and worked as a special adviser to the Treasury under Gordon Brown's government. He has also been international director, then chief strategy officer at Guardian News and Media.

The CBI is still trying to recover from the biggest scandal since it was founded in 1965 and has dismissed around a third of its staff as a result of a drop in membership fees.

Following an independent investigation by law firm Fox Williams, the CBI admitted it hired "culturally toxic" staff and failed to fire people who sexually harassed female colleagues.

It said a failure to act allowed a "very small minority" of staff to believe they could get away with harassment or violence against women.

It recently managed to raise additional funding and it has appointed business veteran Rupert Soames to be its new president.

Rain Newton-Smith, who replaced Tony Danker as the director-general, previously told the BBC she raised concerns over sexual harassment when she was in a senior role at the group.