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Crowdfunding efforts cause offence - by Tristam Price

Two professional women raised grievances for unjustified dismissal; one in northwest England and the other in Tauranga, New Zealand. Both Alison McDermott (bottom left) and Ana Shaw (top right) had been retaliated against for whistleblowing (making Public Interest or Protected Disclosures under the relevant Act). The Employment Tribunal found against McDermott and awarded £40,000 costs against her, and this costs order was challenged to the Employment Appeals Tribunal. McDermott is a HR practitioner who had been brought in to sort out a toxic working environment. The function of her then employer, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, is to handle radioactive material from decommissioned nuclear power stations, including Sellafield. If things go spectacularly wrong at Sellafield, it will be worse than Chernobyl. Similarly, the Employment Court found against Shaw, a cardiac physiologist, and imposed a crippling costs order. In addition, Shaw, and Hamilton anti-bullying advocate Allan Halse who represented her for a few years, are currently defending retaliatory proceedings brought by Shaw’s former employer, the management of Tauranga Hospital. It’s a bizarre, grubby, Orwellian set of proceedings, worse than a SLAPP, on which we have reported extensively since December 2019. The former Bay of Plenty District Health Board’s 14 June 2022 Amended Statement of Claim is here. Both McDermott and Shaw turned to crowdfunding in attempt to mitigate the power imbalance between well-resourced employers and themselves. Correspondence and submissions from those employers reference the crowdfunding efforts directly. Hold on to your lunch here. Sellafield “You’re probably aware of the employment tribunal case against the NDA and Sellafield Ltd by Alison McDermott… I wanted to make you aware of a crowd funding page set up by Ms McDermott to raise money towards her legal costs. We are working closely with legal colleagues and don’t believe that we’d be successful in trying to have the page taken down.” The above was unearthed from a Subject Access (similar to Privacy Act) Request. The Employment Appeals Tribunal found that the costs judgement against McDermott was unsafe, which means that, theoretically, the costs hearing can be re-heard in the Employment Tribunal. Sellafield is pushing for a re-hearing, ostensibly to recover money for the taxpayer by asserting that the higher Tribunal got it wrong. But when factoring in the prohibitive legal costs associated with this most likely futile activity, we believe this to be further retaliation and even a form of harassment. The lesson for Sellafield employees with concerns about safety or wrongdoing is that the McDermott matter is an example of that employer’s general lack of respect for the Public Interest Disclosures Act, and its enthusiasm to pursue a costs claim. Depending on the organisation, it may be best to find a new job, resign, and then make that disclosure, at least until the legislation is updated, which could happen soon. On 20 October we republished a article on this matter, including an interview. The NHS is also notorious for thumbing its nose at the Public Interest Disclosures Act as we see from employment matters involving Drs Chris Day, Usha Prasad, Martyn Pitman and Michael Leary-Owhin. Bay of Plenty District Health Board “On 11 July 2018, [Halse] emailed the Authority, alleging that… the Chief Operating Officer of the Plaintiff, was stalking and harassing [Shaw]. On 19 July 2018 [Shaw] shared a link to a “Givealittle” page to “help Ana Shaw fight the DHB bullying culture in the employment court” on her Facebook page. On 24 August 2018 [Shaw] again shared the RNZ interview to her Facebook page. The post was not removed.” For context, Ana Shaw sent photographic evidence of the then COO stalking her outside her subsequent workplace, to the Employment Relations Authority.

This was more than three years after her dismissal, and with no date for her hearing (this eventually took place in October 2018). We understand that the hospital management, which later filed the same images in the Employment Court, considers that Shaw has “made scandalous allegations” and should be punished for it, along with Halse. The stalking allegations, and publicising the bullying problem at the hospital, appear to have incensed hospital management so much that they have spent five years and over $500,000 (£240,000) seeking a finding of contempt of the Authority, a penalty, and more costs. Or maybe it was the crowdfunding effort hospital management found offensive – the Statement of Claim is so vague that it’s impossible to tell. Judge Corkill indicated that the hearing will be held over several days in early 2024. Is litigation crowdfunding wrongful? By definition, a former employee with a grievance would have to disclose to potential donors at least some details of how they ended up in such a position. The employee concerned may be aware that they have been blacklisted and the solution to that is to publicly seek vindication, and this could be inconvenient to the former employer as the above examples show. Additionally, we suspect that these public sector entities that seem to have a problem with that have lost sight of the fact that their own litigation activities benefit from crowdfunding of sorts – your taxes and mine!

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