Sacked worker wins case over 'Nazi' tag

COLLETTE DEVLIN AND FAIRFAX NZ
Last updated 05:00 23/02/2013

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A former personal assistant to Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt has been awarded $35,000 after an Employment Relations Authority ruled that a Nelson-based company wrongly fired her for being a Nazi sympathiser.

Mia Nelson, was fired by Haldeman LLC, where she had been employed in 2011 as a writer and researcher.

She had assisted Mr Shadbolt until a permanent PA was appointed this month and no longer worked at Invercargill City Council.

The authority said in a decision released yesterday, that it did not believe Ms Nelson had neo-Nazi views, or was trying to bring Nazi ideas into the office.

Ms Nelson, who lives in Invercargill, said last night she was happy her name had been cleared.

"I am ecstatic. It is good to see the justice system works,"she said

She said that when she was bullied with letters and taunts on internet websites, staff at the Invercargill City Council had stood by her, which she appreciated.

She was glad people could now see "bad stuff " was not true.

Council chief executive Richard King said he was pleased for Ms Nelson. "She was an excellent worker . . . a very pleasant person," he said.

Soon after Ms Nelson started at Haldeman LLC, she was promoted by owner Tony Katavitch and given a $10,000 "encouragement payment" to shift to the Nelson office.

One of her main tasks was to create false blogs using search terms to trick Google's search engine, bringing the company's website to prominence, she said.

In May 2012, she attended the barbecue of a former staff member, an employee that Mr Katavich said had left on bad terms.

Ms Nelson told the authority that the following week her office was "basically turned into a cell and positioned so as to put me in the ‘dunce hat corner'."

She said she felt humiliated because everyone was talking about it. Mr Katavitch asked Ms Nelson to drive to a cabin in Brightwater, known as the "remote office" or "the cottage", to find out if people had spoken ill of him at the gathering.

She said they had not.

However, Mr Katavitch later sent an email saying she had failed to tell him about the event, saying it was a "major error of judgment". "I am aware a company event of sorts transpired on Friday evening to which some knucklehead(s) omitted to invite me," he emailed.

"A repeat will see the culprit(s) Christmas bonus withdrawn, and a declaration of elephant mouth."

After several failed meetings, Nelson was suspended for setting up a "Nazi sympathising email address", which included "hitlerhatesbabies", and using the password ilovehitler.

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Mr Katavitch said he was worried about the company's name being associated with neo-Nazi ideas. He also said she lied on her resume.

Ms Nelson said that because it was her job to create several email addresses, and because more conventional addresses had already been taken, she had to think of unusual word sequences to come up with a unique one.

Authority member David Appleton said he did not believe Ms Nelson harboured neo-Nazi views and found her evidence candid and credible. Mr Katavitch's company was ordered to pay her more than $35,700 in arrears of wages, lost wages arising from her dismissal, and an extra $17,000 for unfair dismissal.

Mr Katavitch said the authority's decision was "a disgrace".

- The Southland Times

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