Friday 22 November 2019

Bank of Ireland manager sacked after sending pornographic emails gets job back after six year battle

James Reilly (33) said he forwarded mails to mask homosexuality

James Reilly
James Reilly

A Bank of Ireland sales manager - sacked for "gross misconduct" over the sending of pornographic emails - has won a six year battle to get his job back.

James Reilly (33) of Edgewood Lawn, Blanchardstown, Dublin, said he had forwarded the emails to mask his homosexuality.

A High Court judge said Friday (April 17) Mr Reilly, who had an "exemplary record", had given unchallenged evidence the exchange of such emails was widespread within the bank and throughout public companies.

It had "a catastrophic effect" on his life and career,  Mr Justice Seamus Noonan said.

The bank "hierarchy" set out make an example of him, he said.

It was relevant the email considered the most serious originated in the bank's head office, was sent on by an official who was later promoted and no steps were taken to investigate the other employees involved, he said.

The bank seemingly went to considerable lengths to conceal the provenance of that email, he said.

The long, complex and hugely expensive process Mr Reilly endured before achieving reinstatement was "oppressive to say the least".

It also "calls into question" Ireland's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights concerning access to justice, the judge said.

That process, involving an initial investigation, a two stage disciplinary process, two internal appeals and hearings before the Employment Appeals Tribunal, Circuit Court and High Court, meant Mr Reilly had given evidence on eight different occasions over six years, incurring enormous costs he could ill afford.

The courts previously criticised this process and it was "well past time" the matter was addressed, the judge urged.

He was giving judgment dismissing the bank's appeal against a Circuit Court order awarding Mr Reilly compensation of half a year's salary after upholding a finding by the Employment Appeals Tribunal he was unfairly dismissed.

Circuit Court Judge Gerard Griffin did not award the full salary amount because of his view Mr Reilly contributed to his own downfall.

Mr Reilly, who joined BOI in 2001, accepted before the Circuit Court he had forwarded pornographic, rude, racist and sexist emails he received from other bank employees and said he did so to mask his homosexuality.

Mr Justice Noonan said Mr Reilly's dismissal from the bank's Main Street, Blanchardstown, branch came when Ireland was experiencing an economic catastrophe "brought about in no small measure by the activities of our banks".

Mr Reilly was unable to repay his mortgage but pleas on his behalf from his IBOA union representative to his employer "fell on deaf ears".

While "lip service" was paid to observance of procedures by the bank, it was "clear there was only going to be one outcome".

The manner in which the bank pre-determined this matter and "manipulated" the entire process from the outset reflected little credit on it, he said.  It had visited a "very grave injustice" on Mr Reilly.

The "only appropriate remedy" was reinstatement, the judge said.

Mr Reilly had argued others, including senior people in the Blanchardstown branch and in Bank of Ireland HQ, were sending similar emails.  They were "going round everywhere" and amounted to "banter" between colleagues, it was argued. 

His undisputed evidence was that a pornographic calendar hung in the men's bathroom of the Blanchardstown branch for years without any attempt by management to remove it and that smacked of a "double standard" by the bank, the judge said.

There was no doubt the emails were inappropriate and even Mr Reilly seemed to accept sending them amounted to misconduct deserving some sanction, he said.

If the bank was going to adopt a "zero tolerance" policy, its employees should have been put on notice of that, the judge said.

Instead, Mr Reilly was summoned in 2009 at a moment's notice by a manager to be told he was being suspended on instructions of head office because of "something to do with emails". 

The case centred on seven emails with the one considered by the bank as most serious originating in its head office, the judge said.

One email featured images of naked women on a beach, another included various "vulgar, crude and tasteless" images and another featured an image of obese people engaged in sexual activity.

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News