Police to pay $9000 for unjustified dismissal

MIKE WATSON - TAUPO
Last updated 05:00 04/12/2012

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A former Rotorua police civilian staff member, who passed confidential information from computer intelligence files to a third party, has been awarded $9000 for unjustified dismissal.

The Employment Relations Authority ordered the payment after finding the investigation into Christine Stewart's actions was flawed.

She had originally sought $15,000 for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings.

Ms Stewart was a non-sworn intelligence support officer at Rotorua police station, responsible for collecting and processing information. She had an unblemished 23-year work record that included nine years with the Transport Ministry before its traffic service was merged with police in 1992.

Rotorua police investigated her in 2009 after complaints that she had given confidential information to third parties, which she had received from computer files stored on the national police intelligence database.

Police alleged she lied during the investigation and her actions amounted to serious misconduct.

A second police investigation was also made into her use of the internet during work time to access the Trade Me website.

She resigned in July 2010, before the investigations were completed. Both investigations were later found to be flawed because of a lack of proper disclosure by police.

Before her resignation, staff complained Ms Stewart was untrustworthy, and her behaviour was annoying and disturbing in an open-plan office.

She was told that, because of restructuring, she would not be given high-security clearance to work with sensitive information, and would be offered another role.

She considered the proposed changes as threatening, and her supervisors' attitude as volatile, intimidating, hostile and aggressive.

She told the ERA she "felt sick to the core" during this time and was off work twice on stress leave. "I could not return to work where my superiors concluded (quite wrongly) that I could not be trusted and that I lied to them."

She argued that her resignation was "constructive dismissal" by police, because of the flawed investigations, bullying and harassment, and an attempt to force her out of her role.

In its decision, the ERA found police had cumulatively breached their duty as a fair and reasonable employer, including failing to erase from Ms Stewart's file allegations that she had lied to police, supervisors making her life difficult, and her being told unsubtlely that she was unsuitable to her position.

She was never given an opportunity to defend the serious allegations, the ERA said, and she had little option but to resign.

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It found she had contributed towards her resignation, and that the accessing of confidential files, and using the internet, was "less than appropriate", but it said her resignation was a constructive dismissal and her dismissal unjustified.

Police said they were not in a position to comment yesterday.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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