A disability trust has been ordered to pay almost $100,000 to a former employee

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A disability trust has been ordered to pay almost $100,000 to a former employee

The Employment Tribunal found several problems with the South Waikato Achievement Trust's investigation into a complaint by Virginia Henry (file photo).

Katherine George/Miscellaneous

The Employment Tribunal found several problems with the South Waikato Achievement Trust’s investigation into a complaint by Virginia Henry (file photo).

A senior disabled worker has been awarded almost $100,000 after she was “summarily dismissed” shortly after she accused a fellow staff member of assaulting a carer.

The Employment Tribunal found that the South Waikato Achievement Trust had “taken a long bow” by deciding that Virginia Henry’s complaint was “improperly motivated” and wrongfully dismissing her in 2018 for serious misconduct.

The court awarded Henry $95,696 — made up of $52,636 in lost wages, $8,060 in special damages and $35,000 in compensatory damages, the decision said.

But this failed to get Henry’s job back as she “had to work with people she had accused of significant professional and personal failings”.

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In 2000, Henry started working for the trust, which runs a community service for disabled people in Tokoroa.

By August 2017, Henry was promoted to a management position as “2IC Residential Coordinator”, one of two positions reporting directly to CEO Russell Ensor.

Henry was immediately sacked from the trust in August 2018 following an investigation which began with allegations that one of the trust’s staff may have assaulted a carer.

Henry filed a complaint with Ensor for alleged abuse. Henry did not witness the alleged abuse, which happened about six months ago, but relied on statements from another aid worker.

An investigation into the trust found there was insufficient evidence to support Henry’s complaint and said it was concerned Henry had an “improper motive”.

The trust said Henry had complained about the same member of staff before and the new complaint was in response to little being done about the first complaint.

The trust also claims that Henry did not report the incident earlier, contrary to the complaints process.

The trust then suspended Henry on full pay before dismissing her for serious misconduct.

The trust's conclusion

Guy Rudolph/123rf

The trust’s conclusion “is objectively not something that can be gleaned from the interviews and is not fair,” the court said (file photo).

After her claim for unfair dismissal and unfair disadvantage in connection with the suspension was rejected by the Labor Relations Office, Henry filed a personal complaint and a claim for reinstatement with the Employment Tribunal.

The court found that the suspension was unreasonable because the employer “failed to adequately disclose to [Henry] the reasons for this and there was no adequate basis for making this decision”.

The court ruled the dismissal was without merit and said Ensor had also failed to follow the trust’s grievance process, making its compliance expectations “potentially confusing”.

The trust was found to have treated the employee differently to the way it treated the support worker, who also did not report the alleged assault at the time – the trust took no action against the support worker.

The court found a number of problems with the trust’s investigation into Henry’s actions and said the trust had “taken a long bow” in deciding Henry’s complaint was retaliatory and the process of interviewing other staff to gather evidence was inadequate.

The conclusion reached by the trust “is not an objective thing that can be drawn from the interviews and is not fair”, the court said.

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