'Character assassination': bid to derail promotion backfires

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'Character assassination': bid to derail promotion backfires

A Westpac employee who 'crossed the line' and tried to sabotage a colleague's promotion prospects was not unfairly dismissed, a tribunal has ruled.

A Westpac employee who 'crossed the line' and tried to sabotage a colleague's promotion prospects was not unfairly dismissed, a tribunal has ruled.

Background 


Karine Lecaude began work at Westpac in 2007. She worked within a small team of between three and five people. 

When she joined Westpac she made herself familiar with the bank's code of conduct, which included a policy on the disclosure of confidential information. Ms Lecaude was last trained on the code in April 2017. She was also familiar with Westpac’s grievance policy. 

In July 2016 Ms Lecaude made a formal complaint to HR that her co-worker, Mr Grisdale, had bullied and harassed her between 2013 and 2016.

Following a mediation process with Mr Grisdale, Ms Lecaude felt nothing had changed and she shared her views with her managers. As a result, HR commenced a formal investigation.
 
On 9 December Ms Lecaude attended a meeting with HR about the outcome of the investigation. She was given a letter headed “Private & Confidential”, which detailed eight allegations Ms Lecaude made against Mr Grisdale. 

The outcome of the investigation was that a number of allegations were substantiated while others were not. Blame was attributed to both parties. 

In late July 2017 Mr Grisdale told Ms Lecaude he had applied for another role with Westpac. The hiring manager for this role was Mr Di Carlo. 

Ms Lecaude then emailed Mr Di Carlo claiming that an investigation involving Mr Grisdale was still ongoing and that he had an abusive character. In response, Mr Di Carlo informed Ms Lecaude that he would have to forward her email to their manager. Ms Lecaude then sent a second email stating that her complaint against Mr Grisdale was substantiated and he was supposed to go through an anger management program. She also stated that she agreed to not proceed with her complaint against Mr Grisdale in consideration for his family. 

On 11 August 2017 Ms Lecaude was told that she crossed the line by sending these emails and she apologised. On 6 September she was given a show cause letter which communicated Westpac’s concerns about the factually incorrect information she emailed Mr Di Carlo. 

On 18 September her employment was terminated and she subsequently sought an unfair dismissal remedy. 

The law 


If a person is dismissed, and that dismissal is harsh, unjust or unreasonable, then it is unfair (s385 of the Fair Work Act). There are several criteria for setting out whether a dismissal is harsh, unjust or unreasonable and these include whether or not there was a valid reason, whether the person was notified of the reason and whether the person being fired was given an opportunity to respond (s387).

Arguments 


Ms Lecaude argued that there was no valid reason for her dismissal. She said she sent the emails because she believed that if Mr Grisdale got the job he would have some authority over her. She also claimed that she believed her complaint against Mr Grisdale was ongoing. 

Westpac argued that the reason for the dismissal was valid as Ms Lecaude was aware of the policies in place in relation to confidentiality and she breached that confidence by communicating factually incorrect details about her complaint. 

Decision 


The Fair Work Commission found Ms Lecaude’s reasons for writing the emails varied and it was concerned about her credibility. It found her concerns about Mr Grisdale having managerial authority over her were not warranted. The commission found that if he did get the role it was limited to sending work to her team but nothing more. 

The commission also found it was clear the investigation into her complaint was finalised on 9 December 2016 and she was informed of this. 

Commissioner Williams stated: “Ms Lecaude also plainly breached confidentiality and communicated misleading and incorrect facts about Mr Grisdale. Ms Lecaude also unnecessarily commented on Mr Grisdale’s competence and, to exacerbate matters, persisted in her character assassination.”
 
The commission found there was a valid reason for the dismissal.

The application was dismissed. 

Read the judgment


Karine Lecaude v Westpac Banking Corporation T/A as Westpac [2018] FWC 1969 (11 April 2018) 
 
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