Civil servant sacked over Chairgate loses £500k unfair dismissal claim

Civil servant who was sacked over claim she lied about photo of her gagged and bound to a chair loses £500,000 compensation claim for unfair dismissal as tribunal rules it was ‘high jinks

  • The photograph of Marine Scotland worker DeeAnn Fitzpatrick went viral in 2018
  • She claimed she was subjected to ordeal for blowing whistle on bad behaviour
  • She was then fired and tried to sue her employer Marine Scotland for £500,000
  • But a tribunal today threw out her claim and ruled the photo was just ‘high jinks
  • A civil servant who was sacked over a claim she lied about a photo of her gagged and bound to a chair has lost her £500,000 compensation claim for unfair dismissal after a tribunal ruled it was just ‘high jinks’.

    The image of Marine Scotland worker DeeAnn Fitzpatrick went viral in 2018 after she claimed she was subjected to the ordeal for blowing the whistle on abusive and misogynist behaviour in the office.

    The Senior Fishery Officer said in a BBC interview that tape was placed over her mouth to ‘shuther up as she was told ‘that’s what you get for speaking out about the boys.

    Bosses later fired Ms Fitzpatrick for lying about when the photo was taken so she could claim it was punishment for her whistle blowing complaint.

    She then attempted to sue her employer for £500,000.

    Egter, an employment tribunal has now thrown out Ms Fitzpatrick’s claim of unfair dismissal as it ruled the photo was just ‘high jinksand the two male workers who tied her up believed they were playing a prank.

    Na aanleiding van die uitspraak, the 52-year-old said she was ‘extremely disappointedby the outcome, but insisted she would take comfort from the tribunal acknowledging that such behaviour is not acceptable.

    The image of Marine Scotland worker DeeAnn Fitzpatrick went viral in 2018 after she claimed she was subjected to the ordeal for blowing the whistle on abusive and misogynist behaviour in the office

    The image of Marine Scotland worker DeeAnn Fitzpatrick went viral in 2018 after she claimed she was subjected to the ordeal for blowing the whistle on abusive and misogynist behaviour in the office

    Bosses later fired Ms Fitzpatrick for lying about when the photo was taken so she could claim it was punishment for her whistle blowing complaint

    Bosses later fired Ms Fitzpatrick for lying about when the photo was taken so she could claim it was punishment for her whistle blowing complaint

    The judgment in full

    ‘We scrutinised the photograph as closely as we could. It is not determinative.

    ‘One cannot easily tell from it, or at least the Tribunal was not able to tell from it, whether it was taken in circumstances of duress, fully or partly, or with full participation by the claimant.

    ‘The tape on the mouth is nevertheless particularly concerning. The photograph does not look like high jinks as that term is normally understood.

    ‘High jinks is not normally a term one would expect to be used for events at a government office charged with enforcing the law. It is a term that has dangers.

    ‘It can cover on the one hand conduct in which every participant plays an equal part and enjoys, and on the other hand conduct which is perceived by the recipient to be discriminatory, and is in fact harassment.

    ‘It is a term not unlike ‘banter’, which is a word that can describe an innocent joke, but also be a cover for the use of racist language, byvoorbeeld.

    ‘This photograph shows an event that the Tribunal does not consider to be acceptable high jinks, if high jinks are ever acceptable in a government workplace.

    ‘The photograph itself shows an image that has elements that are sinister, in particular that tape is placed across the claimant’s mouth.

    Advertensie

    The tribunal heard Ms Fitzpatrick worked in the Scrabster Office of Marine Scotland which is on the north coast of Scotland and is involved in the enforcement of fishing laws.

    She told the hearing she had been the victim of bullying at the office which the tribunal described as ‘dysfunctionaland one that had a ‘culture of puerile pranks.

    Workers allegedly put ice down each others clothing, taped someone who had fallen asleep to his chair, placed tape on the beard of another member of staff, poured shredded paper over someone, and used a pen casing as a ‘peashooter.

    In 2009, a photograph was taken of Ms Fitzpatrick taped to a chair with parcel tape which went around her body six times, plus a piece over her mouth.

    The photo was taken by her colleague Reid Anderson and another colleague Jody Paske was involved, het die tribunaal gehoor.

    Ms Fitzpatrick claimed she was tied up because she made a complaint about two male members of staff after one of them made a gesture to throw a punch at a female colleague and called her a ‘whore,’ while the other encouraged his behaviour.

    She described the office as ‘feraland said she believed Mr Anderson and Mr Paske had been ‘put upto restraining her to keep her mouth shut about the behaviour of the other two male colleagues.

    Op daardie stadium, Ms Fitzpatrick did not complain about the incident but later raised it as part of an employment tribunal claim in 2017.

    In a BBC interview with Mark Daly in 2018, Ms Fitzpatrick said: ‘Because I was making noise one of them told the other guy ‘give me some tape I shuts her up’.

    ‘He took the tape and placed it over my mouth, then he said ‘that’s what you get for speaking out about the boys’.

    Die tribunaal, which was held virtually, heard Ms Fitzpatrick said the chair tying incident happened in December 2010 after she made the complaint about her colleague’s behaviour in September of that year.

    But the tribunal ruled the photo was taken in August 2009 – before her whistle blowing complaint.

    The site where Ms Fitzpatrick was pictured gagged and bound in a chair while working for the Scottish government

    The site where Ms Fitzpatrick was pictured gagged and bound in a chair while working for the Scottish government

    One of the men involved in the chair incident, Mr Anderson, said it was ‘high jinksand that they were ‘having a laugh.

    The employment tribunal also ruled the incident amounted to a prank, though it conceded the photo does not look like most people’s idea of high jinks and is ‘concerning.

    Judge Alexander Kemp ruled: ‘The photograph does not look like high jinks as that term is normally understood.

    ‘High jinks is not normally a term one would expect to be used for events at a government office charged with enforcing the law.

    ‘Our conclusion is that at the time of the incident [Mr Anderson and Mr Paske] were likely to have believed it was a form of practical joke that they were playing. It had nothing to do with any disclosure made.

    Ms Fitzpatrick was fired after the civil service also found she had lied about the incident.

    Judge Kemp added that even though the chair incident was a prank, it was not acceptable behaviour in a modern workplace.

    Hy het gesê: ‘The photograph of Ms Fitzpatrick is not acceptable in the modern workplace, nor was it in 2009, even if it was taken by those involved believing it to be a form of prank.

    DeeAnn Fitzpatrick (op die foto) claimed a decade of bullying at Marine Scotland's Scrabster office made her contemplate suicide

    DeeAnn Fitzpatrick (op die foto) claimed a decade of bullying at Marine Scotland’s Scrabster office made her contemplate suicide

    It is now over 10 years since it was taken, but then and now it is far beyond the pale of what we consider could ever be acceptable behaviour in the workplace.

    The tribunal heard Mr Anderson suffered ‘dreadfulonline abuse after the image circulated online in 2018.

    His wife even emailed First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in 2018 to say their lives had become a ‘living helland to say Ms Fitzpatrick had been ‘harassing’ en ‘ hulle.

    A police investigation was launched in August 2018 into the conduct of Mr Anderson and Mr Paske but the police concluded there was insufficient evidence to proceed with charges.

    Ms Fitzpatrick also brought claims of sex, ouderdom, ras, religion and disability discrimination but the tribunal rejected these at the end of last year.

    The tribunal dismissed Ms Fitzpatrick’s claim of unfair dismissal.

    Agterna gepraat, Ms Fitzpatrick said: ‘I am extremely disappointed by the outcome of this case.

    ‘I take some comfort, egter, from the fact that the tribunal acknowledged that the ‘sinisterbehaviour of two men taping a woman to a chair and placing parcel tape over her mouth in a Scottish Government office is not acceptable.

    ‘The tribunal also identified that the photograph demonstrated that some restraint had to have been used to tape me to the chair. One man cannot do both.

    ‘I also note their criticism of the Scottish Government’s multiple failures to gather all relevant evidence, rather than just a limited amount, surrounding the chair incident and the wider circumstances before reaching their decision to dismiss me.