A staff member found to have been unjustifiably dismissed by
the University of Otago hopes ''working conditions improve''
at the institution as a result of her case.
The Employment Relations Authority (ERA), in a written
decision, found former head of marketing services Dr Kerry
Kirkland was unjustifiably dismissed and unjustifiably
disadvantaged by the university.
ERA member David Appleton ordered the university to pay
$12,465.75 for lost wages and emotional damages, after
reducing damages by 25% due to Dr Kirkland's contribution to
Mr Appleton did not uphold all Dr Kirkland's complaints,
including bullying allegations made against marketing and
communications division director Virginia Nicholls.
Instead, Mr Appleton's finding was based on the university's
failure to follow Dr Kirkland's wish for it to investigate
the substance of complaints of rudeness made against her.
''I believe that the university's failure to investigate the
substance of the complaints against Dr Kirkland ... was not
the action that a fair and reasonable employer could have
done in all the circumstances at the time,'' he said.
''This failure clearly caused her disadvantage in her
employment (as she felt unable to work in the environment
where she might be accused of being rude again) and it was
In a statement released to the Otago Daily Times
yesterday, Dr Kirkland said she was ''relieved'' the case was
over and pleased to have ''won the legal points''.
''My best wishes to the staff and colleagues I left behind
and I sincerely hope that working conditions improve at the
university as a result of my action.''
The university did not respond to a request for comment
While Mr Appleton detailed some of the wider issues over the
working environment brought up as part of the case -
including an August 2012 letter from the Tertiary Education
Union calling Ms Nicholls' management ''micro-managing,
misguided and conflict creating'' - he only made rulings on
Dr Kirkland's specific complaints.
The complaints included that Ms Nicholls and summer school
director Dr Elaine Webster fabricated a complaint of rudeness
against Dr Kirkland, and Ms Nicholls falsely accused Dr
Kirkland of being rude to two university staff and an
In relation to these complaints, the ERA found Dr Kirkland
had not suffered an ''unjustified disadvantage'' and the
complaints of rudeness were genuine.
In making a decision to reduce damages by 25% due to Dr
Kirkland's contribution to the outcome, Mr Appleton said he
believed Dr Kirkland had spoken to all the individuals ''in
ways which were reasonably seen by them as rude''.
''It is highly unlikely that all of them had separately
formed perceptions of rudeness unreasonably.
''Whilst I accept that Dr Kirkland did not intend to be rude
(in the sense that she did not intend to cause offence), she
still contributed to the situation, giving rise to the
personal grievance by her words and tone,'' he said.
Dr Kirkland had been seeking more than $270,000 in
compensation from the university, including $180,000 for
humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings. She did
not seek reinstatement.
Mr Appleton said the $180,000 sum ''far exceeds what is
appropriate in this case, and the maximum that the authority
is ever likely to award''.