'Dinosaur attitude' saves Sutton's face

LEAVING: Roger Sutton at the press conference announcing his resignation on Monday.
JOSEPH JOHNSON

LEAVING: Roger Sutton at the press conference announcing his resignation on Monday.

OPINION: Gosh. Wasn't that all a silly misunderstanding over dear old, affectionate Roger Sutton yesterday? Lost his job over a couple of hugs and a few off-colour remarks.

It's a shame really. On Thursday, Roger was going to speak at a construction industry event in Christchurch called "How to attract women to your jobs". He'll probably have to give it a miss now.

Thankfully, those decent chaps at the State Services Commission (SSC) have got his back.

In a year when the public service should be self-flagellating over the mishandling of the Malaysian diplomat sexual assault case and the Roastbusters scandal, the SSC has taken victim-shaming to a whole new level.

Sutton's victim did not make her complaint lightly. She's respected, professional (not that this matters) and, like any woman forced into this nightmare, would have worried about her career. But, she bravely made a stand and forced her harasser to face up to his actions.

And how did the SSC reward her for her courage? They allowed her to be victim-shamed. First privately. And then very publicly.

First, she was sent home to work. Sutton remained in his job at the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority offices for the course of an eight-week investigation.

Her complaint was upheld. But the SSC did not deem it serious enough for Sutton to be sacked.

I can't describe the nature of the complaints. But, as described to me, behaviour of that nature is sexist, humiliating, demeaning and an assertion of power over the victim.

But somehow, that all got lost in the disgraceful public relations exercise that saved the face of the Christchurch rebuild.

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Instead of supporting the victim, the SSC stage-managed Sutton's exit with a press conference. He was given a platform to shrug off his behaviour as mere hugs, eccentricity, folksy terms of endearment.

State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie and Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet boss Andrew Kibblewhite - the top tier of the public service - travelled from Wellington to attend his press conference. Rennie praised him, Kibblewhite hugged him. Sutton's wife gave tearful interviews in front of the cameras.

Yesterday's performance was not contrition, it was about salvaging his reputation.

And the victim? Left to contemplate a return to work where her abuser will remain in his $500,000 a year job for another two months.

Earlier this year, the SSC published the results of a workplace survey, which revealed a quarter of civil servants were subject of bullying or harassment.

Under Rennie, with his dinosaur attitude to sexual bullying in the workplace, that is unlikely to get any better.

 - Stuff

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