Dismissed worker 'not team player'

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 12:58 11/06/2014

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A sacked city council worker's actions were serious enough to have destroyed confidence in her ability to remain in the organisation, the head of the Nelson City Council human relations department says.

Stephen Gully told the Employment Court in Nelson yesterday, that former executive assistant Robyn Hutchison was "not a team player" and did not have the council's best interests at heart when she behaved in a way that constituted serious misconduct.

Gully, the council's HR manager for 34 years, said her dismissal was justified.

Hutchison is fighting her December 2011 dismissal on the grounds it was unjustified. She was employed in May 2011 as the part-time executive assistant to senior council managers Alec Louverdis and Geoff Mullen, but was dismissed after a disciplinary process.

She claimed several instances of bullying and intimidation by her bosses, but a tipping point was the treatment of a former colleague at a work performance meeting in which she was asked to take notes.

Details surrounding the former colleague known as Mr J, who died in September 2011, were not admissible in court.

Hutchison's representative in court, Hugh Flower, raised questions yesterday as to whether her concerns had been properly addressed from the outset. He also suggested that as a "whistle blower" she might be covered by protected disclosure.

The Protected Disclosures Act encourages people to report serious wrongdoing in their workplace.

Jonathan Sanders, who helped the decision-makers in the disciplinary process, said under cross examination that it had not occurred to him until now that it was a potential whistleblower situation, but there was nothing to suggest it would meet the criteria.

Lawyer acting for the council Maree Kirk said the case against Hutchison included a breach of duty of good faith in that she sent work emails to her home email address, a confidentiality breach by making a statement to the police, at the behest of the coroner, and another breach by undertaking secondary employment. Hutchison said that involved a one-week trial direct selling catalogues.

Hutchison was asked during the second stage of a lengthy cross-examination by Kirk to prove "serious wrong-doing" by her employer.

Hutchison agreed that notes she had taken during the meetings involving Mr J were correct. In answer to a question from Judge Bruce Corkill, she said information forwarded to the coroner did not include details of what she later described as "harsh and abusive treatment" of Mr J, because it was not her job to have an opinion.

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She said Mr J hoped things could be resolved and did not want to inflame matters, which is why she believed he signed the meeting notes.

She admitted yesterday to having made minor alterations to emails provided to the court that were originally sent to Gully, through an act of "bravado". She said the emails were intended as communication between herself and a lawyer who had been acting for her earlier on. Hutchison said she was "hurt and angry", and ready to do what she could to seek justice. She also said that "major exposure" of the facts were her primary aim.

Gully said the fact Hutchison had sent work documents to her home email address, including minutes from meeting she had not attended, was "destructive and harmful to a good relationship". He said the council was concerned she would use the contents of the documents to its detriment, at a later date, and that she would disclose information about Mr J's death.

Gully said Hutchison did not seem to have any understanding of her contractual obligations, and "seemed to have a misplaced sense of her own importance".

He wondered if the threat was linked to the plaintiff wanting to be paid.

Emails sent to the mayor's office indicated Hutchison had sought a settlement figure to meet her mid-term needs if she resigned.

She also wrote to the chief executive, seeking the offer of a reasonable settlement figure.

- The Nelson Mail

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