The University of Otago has been lambasted by New Zealand’s employment watchdog for trying to fire an employee using information revealed in a suppressed court case.


The employee, named only as B, turned up to his District Court appearance in June last year to find his boss in the courtroom taking detailed notes of proceedings.

The judge discharged the worker without conviction and issued an order suppressing his name and all details around the offending.

However, his manager Andrew Ferguson, returned to the university and reported the decision to three other managers, distributing a report on the case to several other employees, the Employment Relations Tribunal (ERA) revealed in a decision released on Tuesday.

After seeking legal advice, the university suspended the worker and launched a disciplinary investigation in which the man was almost fired before being issued a final written warning.

He complained to the ERA, arguing his treatment was unjustified given his bosses relied on information revealed only in the suppressed case.

The ERA has backed the employee, stating in its decision that the university’s behaviour was “not the actions of a fair and reasonable employer”.

It said the judge has opted to suppress details of the offending primarily to protect the man’s employment, but the university chose to ignore these comments and take action of its own.

“Its managers went so far as to both consider and recommend dismissal,” the ERA wrote.

“Ultimately they applied a lessor sanction but one which still disadvantages (the employee).

“I conclude those are not, in the circumstances and given the judge’s comments, the actions of a fair and reasonable employer.”

The watchdog ruled the university had breached the suppression orders by writing a detailed account of what happened in court and effectively publishing it by formally sharing the information with several others.

The ERA ordered the two parties to address remedies between themselves.

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