Hayne cleared on guard case

Harlene Hayne.
Harlene Hayne.
The University of Otago vice-chancellor has been cleared of breaching the name suppression of a campus security officer.

The guard appeared in the Dunedin District Court on charges of wilful damage and assaulting his wife in 2013.

Judge Dominic Flatley discharged the man without conviction and suppressed his  name and all details of the offending.

The university’s deputy proctor had been alerted to the sentencing hearing and made notes at the back of the court as it unfolded.

Afterwards he received advice from the university’s lawyer  the suppression order did not cover "bare communication" to genuinely interested people on a one-to-one basis.

"The lawyer also said there was a legitimate interest for an employer in the fact an employee had pleaded guilty to a charge involving the type of behaviour the employee is engaged to prevent," a Supreme Court judgement released this week said.

The university subsequently suspended the security staff member and undertook an investigation, which resulted in  the man lodging  a personal grievance against his employer — the vice-chancellor, Harlene Hayne.

After more than three years of litigation, the Supreme Court ruled Ms Hayne had not breached the court order in relation to the employee.

The court confirmed  suppression orders related not only to publication by the media but also to word of mouth.

However, it did not encompass "the dissemination of information to persons with an objectively established genuine need to know the information".

The court said the case illustrated uncertainty over the issue and some legislative clarification could be considered.

After being suspended from work in late 2013, the security officer took his case to the Employment Relations Authority claiming he had been unjustifiably disadvantaged.

The authority agreed and took the view the University of Otago had breached name suppression, which was not the actions of a "fair and reasonable employer".

The following year, the Employment Court took an opposite stance.

"Disclosure of the information about the charges in that situation did not constitute ‘publication’," it ruled.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the man’s challenge in 2016 and the Supreme Court’s ruling this week marked the end of the matter.

As well as finding in favour of Ms Hayne, the court also ordered the security guard to pay costs of $25,000.

University of Otago human resources director Kevin Seales said last night "we are delighted with the decision and pleased we persevered for four years".

"The Supreme Court has made the right decision and it is our sincere hope that this offers clarity and direction for other workplaces."