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AAS ex-director Torto hails Kenyan court win


Judge finds no evidence that Nelson Torto bypassed academy’s council to increase own salary

Former executive director of the African Academy of Sciences, Nelson Torto, has said “there is no real winner”, after claiming victory in a bitter Kenyan court battle with his former employer.

The court ruled that the AAS was in “breach of contract” in the lead-up to his suspension and subsequent resignation from the post in 2020, and found no evidence to support the AAS’s counterclaim that Torto inflated his own salary without approval while in post.

Torto said the row, which contributed to several funders pulling grant programmes from the AAS, causing delays in funding payouts, had taken its toll on African science.

He told Research Professional News: “There is no real winner in the sense that reputations are unnecessarily ruined, confidence has been compromised and there has been a missed opportunity of impactful growth.”

Strong allegations

Torto initiated a lawsuit against the AAS in August 2020, having resigned the previous month—a few weeks short of his three-year contract coming to an end.

His resignation followed shortly after his suspension over allegations of financial misconduct, including that he had raised his own salary by 38.6 per cent between 2018 and 2020 without the knowledge or approval of the AAS governing council.

The AAS reiterated that allegation in a July 2021 counterclaim lodged against Torto. In it, the AAS also claimed that Torto had resigned voluntarily, and that his claim that he had been dismissed unfairly was baseless and without legal merit.

However, in a judgment dated 18 April, Nairobi Employment and Labour Relations Court judge Jacob Gakeri dismissed the counterclaim, saying that the AAS had provided “no scintilla of evidence to demonstrate how [Torto] unilaterally increased his salary” without the knowledge of the AAS governing council, or any of the committees reporting to it.

Constructive dismissal

The judgment noted that the AAS had acted as an “insensitive employer” and also ruled that Torto had been “constructively” dismissed—meaning the AAS had left him with no other option than to resign.

The judge found that the AAS had failed to respond to Torto’s requests in the last six months of his employment to be considered for a contract renewal. He ruled that the AAS’s failure to evaluate Torto for a contract renewal was a “breach of contract”.

The judgment orders the AAS to pay Torto 2.5 months’ salary, as well as his legal costs and unspecified “relocation” costs that Torto incurred upon his departure from the AAS, which has its headquarters in Kenya.

Torto, who now works as a senior government official in Botswana, told Research Professional News that the ruling was “a great, welcome relief”. The AAS did not respond to requests for comment.