A woman who won an employment case against Waikato District Health Board, which then appealed and lost the argument again, has finally been sent an apology for her treatment.
The case, believed to have cost the DHB tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, fines and a severance payout, was approved for appeal by the former chief executive Dr Nigel Murray – who quit last month amid an expenses scandal.
Kathleen Archibald won an Employment Relations Authority case against the DHB this year for unjustified dismissal and the DHB was ordered to pay her $10,000 and redundancy.
Archibald was 67 and had been a nurse for 50 years including working as a health promoter for two decades with Waikato DHB when she was told in March last year she would have to travel from Thames to Hamilton every day for six months under a restructure.
Archibald had had a kidney transplant and was required to take particular care of her health.
She said the 200km return trip or almost three-hour daily commute, filled her with dread and would “destroy” her.
The PSA union argued the travel was a substantial change from her normal duties and that she was entitled to a redundancy as a result. The ERA agreed.
But Waikato DHB pursued an appeal and Murray was consulted over proceedings.
The Herald understands this was despite a judge warning several months before that its case was weak and if it lost the DHB would have to pay Archibald’s costs.
The judgment in the Employment Court on October 31 also ruled in Archibald’s favour, upgrading the compensation to $20,000 and ordering it and the severance be paid within 15 days.
Chief Judge Christina Inglis said Archibald experienced “a deep sense of hurt that she had not been listened to”, and that her concerns were “unceremoniously brushed to one side”.
On Wednesday PSA union organiser Daryl Gatenby sent a scathing letter to the DHB’s audit and risk committee asking why the appeal was made.
“The court heard few fresh or compelling arguments from the DHB, as the plaintiff in the case,” Gatenby wrote.
“The majority of the evidence that the case turned on had already been heard by the authority and was presented again to the court.”
He said the DHB ought to have known the chances of losing were high and it would be reported in the media, further damaging the DHB’s reputation, which has taken a battering in recent months over Murray’s expenses.
“It seems to me that insufficient grounds for a successful appeal were available to the DHB and in my view this ought to have been obvious when the DHB assessed the authority determination to check its suitability for an appeal.”
Gatenby said Archibald was a popular, long-serving DHB employee who had suffered significant “human cost” because of her treatment, as had her colleagues who were called as witnesses.
A DHB spokeswoman said the board apologised to Archibald this week, though she had not received the apology by last night.
The spokeswoman said it was standard to put a proposal for appeal on an employment matter – a rare event – in front of the chief executive for consideration.
“The expectation would be that if we are considering taking an appeal to the Employment Court the matter would be discussed with the chief executive. The previous CE was consulted on the proposal to appeal in this case.”
She said the PSA letter had been forwarded from the committee to management for comment.