Airing grievances on website was contempt of court

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Airing grievances on website was contempt of court

An ex-employee who breached termination settlement undertakings has been found guilty of contempt of court.

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An ex-employee who breached termination settlement undertakings has been found guilty of contempt of court.

[Full text of this case: 1st Available v M [2016] NSWSC 30, 5/2/16]

The employer was involved in the provision of online health care appointment bookings.

An employee’s acrimonious termination of employment settlement included signing an undertaking not to publish or circulate her allegations of bullying and harassment by the employer’s managing director, plus other allegations relating to payment of her entitlements and the termination procedure.

However, the ex-employee did publicise her allegations via emails and comments on her own website. The employer instituted contempt of court proceedings against her for having breached the undertaking.

The NSW Supreme Court found that contempt had been established beyond reasonable doubt and ordered the ex-employee to pay the employer’s costs. However, it declined to impose any penalty on her because she had apologised for her actions.

Facts of case


The Court (Justice Hidden) found the ex-employee breached nine of the 35 undertakings that formed part of consent orders made to settle proceedings against her for allegedly publishing statements highly critical of her employer and its managing director.

The statements had included claims of bullying, harassment, unlawful discrimination, issuing threats to her safety, victimisation and providing a toxic and dangerous working environment.

The undertaking did provide exceptions (from not publishing her allegations) that related to legal proceedings/advice, insurance claims and seeking medical treatment.

Between signing the undertakings and settling the proceedings, the ex-employee sent material relating to the allegations to the managing director of a company on retainer to the employer to provide advice and fund-raising.

Stress


Evidence was presented that the ex-employee was suffering from major depression and post-traumatic stress due to her employment experiences with the employer, and she attributed her actions to being in that condition at the time. The court took that into account, but still found her actions were “deliberate and considered” and therefore in contempt of court.

Taking her psychological condition into account, and also her perceptions of unfair treatment and her apology to the court, no penalty was issued. However, she was ordered to pay the employer’s costs.

The bottom line: Parties to a deed of settlement are subject to any restrictions in place and the court will enforce such deeds.

1st Available v M [2016] NSWSC 30, 5/2/16

See also: Reneging on settlement of unfair dismissal claim 

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