Judge decries ridiculous claim

LAURA BASHAM
Last updated 13:00 18/12/2013

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Turning a resthome manager's joking reference to an advertising jingle "teatime, teatime, jellimeat for dinner" into a complaint that contributed to her losing her job was "ridiculous", an Employment Court judge has found.

What was simply Margot Gazeley's light-hearted banter at work became part of allegations that led to a two and a half year employment battle.

Now she has been vindicated by an Employment Court victory and will get her job back at the Woodlands Rest Home and Retirement Village in Motueka, two years' back pay and compensation from her employer Oceania Group.

The court has overturned an Employment Relations Authority decision that had ruled in Oceania's favour and ordered her to pay $32,954 towards its costs.

Judge Mark Perkins has ruled Oceania failed to carry out its task to be a fair and reasonable employer in her dismissal and that the dismissal was unjustified.

The company had failed to carry out a thorough investigation into allegations made by disaffected staff members, and reached conclusions on false premises.

Mrs Gazeley had been on leave when a spot surveillance audit carried out on Woodlands was critical of her management, and the next day the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board placed it under temporary management.

When she returned she was suspended and Oceania started a disciplinary process, dismissing her in September 2011.

She was alleged to have made rude and derogatory comments including calling residents to dinner by saying "teatime, teatime, jellimeat for dinner".

Judge Perkins said it was plain from the evidence given by those who knew Mrs Gazeley that she had a vibrant sense of humour. She was well liked by many of the staff and residents.

She had a special relationship with two gentlemen who sat in the foyer lounge outside her office and exchanged banter.

Judge Perkins said: "This jingle taken from a television advertisement had been turned into something sinister by those complaining about Mrs Gazeley.

"Ms Hoyle [a human resources manager] alleged that Mrs Gazeley, in uttering those words, was treating the residents as animals. In the circumstances that is a ridiculous assertion."

Similarly, the groundsman maintenance worker Alan Joyce was not offended by Mrs Gazeley's "dirty hua" comment when he left soiled handprints on her desk when he was speaking with her. Both saw it as having a funny side.

Ms Rogers and Ms Hoyle maintained that Mrs Gazeley was calling Mr Joyce a ‘whore'.

"This is a matter which again has been given a sinister turn by Mr Hipkins [then Oceania chief executive] and Ms Hoyle in the letter of dismissal. Using it as a ground for dismissal could not be the action of a fair and reasonable employer."

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Another incident used to dismiss her involved alleged physical abuse of a resident, with administrator Janeen Rogers describing how Mrs Gazeley told a resident three times to sit down then threatened to restrain her.

However, the judge found that Mrs Gazeley, seeing that the woman was about to fall, had rushed to save her and managed with assistance to get her into a chair.

The woman had not complained about the incident, which happened months before Woodlands was placed under temporary management by the DHB.

Oceania also maintained that the DHB had lost trust and confidence in Mrs Gazeley as shown in its decision to place Woodlands under temporary management.

This allegation by Ms Hoyle was false, the judge said.

The judge has ordered Mrs Gazeley be reinstated in her job but her return be deferred for 28 days so it can be managed on an orderly basis.

Oceania must also reimburse her for full loss of earnings plus an annual petrol allowance of $5000, reinstate her KiwiSaver entitlements and pay her $20,000 compensation for hurt and humiliation she suffered.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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