Rough Justice – An Opening Brief
“DeeAnn Kirkpatrick, a civil servant employed in Marine Scotland, made allegations of sexual harassment, racism, bullying, and assault against some of her male colleagues.
An Employment Tribunal decided that her allegations were time spent after three years and aided and supported by senior civil servants of the Human Resources team of the Scottish Government, dismissed the allegations.
The nub is that the substance of DeeAnn’s complaints was never independently investigated.”
DeeAnn’s sister Cherry, issued a statement through the Daily Record saying:
“My sister has been left absolutely devastated and feeling betrayed. How can this be justice? It’s a disgrace. She can hardly bear to look at the photograph of herself gagged and taped to a chair. It suits Marine Scotland to say DeeAnn made it all up. She has been broken by this. My sister used to be strong, brave, and outgoing. Now she is a recluse who is afraid of her own shadow.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government responded with a counter-statement saying: “The Scottish Government provides reassurance that policies and processes within the Civil Service are both robust and provide the necessary support to individuals who may wish to raise concerns.”
Note: DeeAnn’s case was thrown out because it had not been placed before the tribunal within 3 years. A copy of Nicola’s letter of 22 November 2017 to Leslie Evans is included below.
22 November 2017 Nicola Sturgeon Letter to Leslie Evans
At Cabinet, on 31 October I asked you to review the Scottish Government’s policies and processes on sexual harassment so that we could be reassured that we have effective arrangements in place in light of justifiable concern about the recent examples of misconduct across public life. You have kept me closely briefed on these issues.
I know that work is moving forward quickly and that you have already put arrangements in place to ensure that any member of staff who has concerns about the way they have been treated has the support and advice they need. You have also advised me that the review is considering how best to build on the work already being done to create an inclusive and respectful culture across the organization.
As is clear from the continued media focus on cases of sexual harassment, in many instances, people are now making complaints regarding actions that took place some time ago.
I wanted to make clear that in taking forward your review, and the new arrangements being developed, you should not be constrained by the passage of time.
I would like you to consider ways in which we are able to address if necessary any concerns from staff – should any be raised – about the conduct of current Scottish Government Ministers and also former Ministers, including from previous administrations regardless of party.
While I appreciate that the conduct of former Ministers would not be covered by the current Ministerial Code, I think it fair and reasonable that any complaints raised about their actions while they held office are considered against the standards expected of Ministers.
As you complete your review I believe it would be helpful for you to update Cabinet on the conclusions you have reached and the actions the Scottish Government has taken to provide reassurance that policies and processes within the Civil Service are both robust and provide the necessary support to individuals who may wish to raise concerns. (https://www.parliament.scot/HarassmentComplaintsCommittee/Phase1FN21.pdf)
Comment: The Permanent Secretary reports to the First Minister but is accountable to the UK Government Cabinet Secretary and Leading Civil Servant in London. Any procedure brought forward by Evans to the First Minister would need to be first approved by him and mirror those in place in London and other parts of the UK since there is no deviation in the terms of employment applicable to all Civil Servants in the UK.
More On Events at the Employment Tribunal
The tribunal had been convened to hear evidence from Canadian born, DeeAnn Fitzpatrick, a civil servant who had lodged allegations of racism, bullying, sexual harassment, and misogynism at Marine Scotland, in Scrabster over nearly a decade from 2006. (content paraphrased for ease of reading)
“I have worked for Marine Scotland in Scrabster, since 2006. Over this period I spoke to managers about the racist and misogynistic behavior of some of my male colleagues and asked that they put an end to it, without success.
I was subsequently warned by those self-same colleagues to “keep my mouth shut”.
In 2010 I reported to managers that the behavior of some of my male colleagues had not improved. But again nothing was done.
Shortly after I was assaulted, gagged, strapped to a chair, photographed, and mocked.
I was eventually rescued and freed by a female colleague who told me: “they don’t want a woman, especially a foreign woman here.
A male colleague, Reid Anderson told me: “This is what you get when you speak out against the boys.
I was also labeled an “old troll” and told not to even attempt to “climb the ladder of success” and, I was mocked after I suffered a miscarriage and I received anonymous abusive cards on my birthday and Valentine’s Day between 2015 and 2017.
Managers turned a blind eye to the bullying and sexist treatment I suffered at the hands of my male colleagues.
The events have taken their toll on my health and wellbeing and I have become a recluse – I stay at home suffering from depression and have harbored thoughts of suicide. Thoughts that were so all-consuming that I contacted Dignitas in Switzerland. I had had enough.”
The Scottish Government was solely represented by their Head of People Advice, Judith MacKinnon who advised the tribunal that the persons accused by DeeAnn of wrong-doing had decided not to face their accuser because they were scared of the intense media attention the case had generated.
She further advised that the Scottish Government supported the accused officers since the disciplinary procedures of the Civil Service bestowed on civil servants the right to remain silent and that they could not be compelled to answer questions that might incriminate themselves.
She went on to say that she had read over case notes prepared by DeeAnn’s managers, who had carried out an internal department head led investigation and that she backed their findings that DeeAnn had willingly participated in the “high Jinks” culture prevalent within the department. As such there was insufficient evidence to support DeeAnn’s allegations.
The tribunal pronounced that the allegation pertaining to the incident in which she had been strapped to a chair was time-barred since it had occurred over 3 years before.
It also found that there was insufficient evidence as to who had sent the abusive cards.
The handling of events by the Civil Service Human Resources Department of the Scottish Government was mildly criticized but DeeAnn’s allegations were not upheld.
It was this rejection and final humiliation that forced DeeAnn to speak to the press. she told the Daily Record:
“It is difficult when you have spent your entire career fighting racism, misogyny, and bullies. Then to make matters worse when you report the incidents, you are the one that is being targeted by an ongoing campaign by senior management because you exposed what they have worked very hard to hide.”
Nicola Sturgeon and the “Chair” Incident
Nicola issued a statement saying that she was appalled at the revelations and pictorial evidence published in the Daily Record and ordered the Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government, Leslie Evans, to personally investigate the incident involving the chair and to report back to her.
Evans reported back (summarized):
“A comprehensive internal review has now concluded that the Scottish Government has robust disciplinary procedures to address behavior that falls below expected standards and I am satisfied that these have been followed thoroughly and objectively in relation to this incident.
A broad set of actions are underway in Marine Scotland to ensure a working environment that meets both the Civil Service Code and Scottish Government Standards of Behaviour.
I do not normally comment publicly on staffing matters but I am issuing this short statement to update the public record given the previous parliamentary and wider interest in this issue.
My unwavering commitment to ensuring a positive workplace for all employees in the Scottish Government remains.”
Comment: An incredulous statement to which nothing was added by the Scottish Government. The lack of response from the Scottish Government was not entirely unexpected since whilst the Permanent Secretary reports to the First Minister she is accountable only to the UK government Cabinet Secretary located in London.
The interview with the Daily Record triggered a charge of misconduct against her and DeeAnn was ordered to attend a disciplinary hearing.
she was unable to attend on the day/date because her father had only recently died and her doctor had said she was not fit to travel.
The hearing was conducted in her absence and resulted in her being sacked.
The notice of dismissal procedure served on her was bizarre since it was carried out by two civil servants who despite travel restrictions being in place because of Covid-19 journeyed by car on a 16-hour return trip from Edinburgh to her home in Caithness to hand-deliver her dismissal letter.
The latest news is that lawyers acting on LeeAnn’s behalf confirmed that she would sue the Scottish government for wrongful dismissal, based on a defense of workplace stress and damage to her mental health and wellbeing.
Local MSP Rhoda Grant Fights Back
The Highlands MSP used a member’s debate on condemning misogyny and harassment at Holyrood to raise the whistleblower’s case in a speech she described as “probably the most difficult” she had ever made.
Rhoda claimed that a manager at Marine Scotland had “referred to women in extremely derogatory terms,” and continued:
“I cannot repeat the language used in this chamber, but it was racist, sexist, vicious, and degrading. DeeAnn has been subject to institutional racism, sexism, harassment, and abuse at the hands of Marine Scotland, a Scottish Government Directorate. And the abuse continued despite her raising the matter at senior levels in government. Over a number of years, the oppressive behavior was constant and undermining and DeeAnn always being held to a different standard than others. I’m told by a colleague that this was deliberate and systematic conduct by others in the office and in the line of command in Marine Scotland, designed to wear her down and force her out.”
Referring to the involvement of the press that had triggered the attention of Nicola Sturgeon who concluded the chair incident to be “completely unacceptable, whatever the circumstances.” She said to the chamber:
“DeeAnn began working for Marine Scotland in 2006 and claimed problems arose when she blew the whistle on the misogynistic behavior of her colleagues towards a younger female colleague. She then became the target of abuse – and her case came to public attention last year when a photograph was revealed showing her gagged and taped to a chair.”
“The first minister’s investigation only looked at the incident with the photograph, and it was not an independent investigation. There needs to be a truly independent inquiry into DeeAnn’s treatment. And my evidence to the inquiry was fed back directly to Marine Scotland who twisted it to be used against DeeAnn. And DeeAnn has still not been informed of the findings of the investigation, and has remained away from work on full pay, but not suspended.”
Rhoda then claimed she had discovered that the “Scottish Government HR intercepted DeeAnn’s e-mails, including sensitive exchanges with her Trade Union representative”, adding that there had been “a fully hatched plan” between Scottish Government HR and DeeAnn’s line management… which showed they intended to move her to the Outer Hebrides. When DeeAnn declared that she could not move because of caring for her ailing mother, they decided to implement their previously discussed plan to dismiss her on trumped-up charges. A move that collapsed when they failed to produce the necessary evidence. And then DeeAnn was threatened with disciplinary action for going to her father’s death bed.
Rhoda said DeeAnn’s issues at work had started after returning to work following the breakdown of a “devastating” relationship with a colleague in another office, which had resulted in a miscarriage, and the issue of a non-harassment order. Her line manager was not supportive, mocked her being off with stress, and threatened to move her to work in the office where her former partner was based – despite knowing that a non-harassment order was in place. She added that she could not repeat the “extremely derogatory” terms in which he referred to women.
Rhoda spoke further saying: “DeeAnn has been subject to institutional racism, sexism, harassment and abuse at the hands of Marine Scotland, a Scottish Government Directorate,” Calling for an independent inquiry into the case, she added: “Despite me raising this at senior levels of government on a number of occasions with the previous Permanent Secretary, with John Swinney, Richard Lockhead, Paul Wheelhouse, and the First Minister – the abuse continued.
Rhoda also revealed that the original case which DeeAnn had reported was a threat to punch another female staff member by a male fisheries officer, who was allegedly encouraged by DeeAnn’s boss “to make sure it’s a good one”.
While they were initially disciplined, the men had successful appeals. Rhoda claimed: “the Scottish Government knows the Senior Fishery Officer secretly recorded the disciplinary panel’s deliberations and learned details that then led to their successful appeal.”
As well as abuse, Rhoda said DeeAnn was: “constantly being held to a different standard than others – toil, holidays, time off for compassionate leave or for medical reasons. On every occasion, she was questioned at length, but others were not. I was told by a colleague that this was deliberate and systematic conduct by others in the office and with the approval of line managers in Marine Scotland. A process designed to wear her down and force her out.”
Rhoda then asked the Equalities Minister Christina McKelvie, if she would push Scottish Government colleagues to set-up an independent inquiry. The Minister declined to say it would be “inappropriate” for her to get involved and that Rhoda should take up an offer to meet with Scottish Government officials.
The BBC Get Involved
Adding credence to DeeAnn’s allegations a reporter with the BBC said they had seen emails confirming DeeAnn had reported the alleged attack to her manager Mr. Paske, soon after it happened, but her complaints were not taken seriously. Mr. Paske told DeeAnn: “I will have a word with Reid Anderson and Jody Paske about this. I am sure they meant no harm and that it was boys just being boys.” When confronted by the BBC reporter, Mr. Paske, who no longer works at Marine Scotland, said:
“The allegations were false. I can’t remember the event you mention, but if it did happen, it would have been office banter, just a craic, certainly, nothing to do with abuse.”
The BBC reported further that one of the accused persons Mr. Anderson was still employed by Marine Scotland and had recently been promoted. and that he had failed to respond to the BBC’s request for comments.