Hospital fired sisters after brawl broke out in canteen
A private hospital has said it cannot tolerate staff members assaulting one another, after firing two sisters following a fracas in the hospital canteen.
Deborah O'Keeffe-Byrne and her sister Lisa were both fired from the catering department at the Mater Private in Dublin after the pair had an altercation on April 21, 2011.
Catering assistant Stacey O'Sullivan, who witnessed the event, told an Employment Appeals Tribunal that Lisa entered the restaurant while her sister ate lunch. She said Deborah started laughing loudly and said: "I told you she'd come in, knowing I'm on a break."
She said Deborah then stormed over, biting her fist and told Lisa "I'm warning you, get out now" and pulled her sister's arm. She told the tribunal that Lisa called Deborah a "psycho".
Deborah held her sister's arm as Lisa stumbled over a step. Then Lisa hit Deborah in the face, the hearing was told.
Deborah, who was taking the case, gave evidence and said her sister was "aggravating" her by coming into the restaurant before her shift.
She said the pair had been fighting for around two weeks before the incident, and otherwise were friends.
She denied she stormed across the room and bit her fist. She said she didn't shout across the room and didn't "grab" her sister but rather "took her by the arm" to escort her out.
However, she agreed she could have walked out when Lisa came in and had no authority to eject someone from the restaurant.
Olive Connor, patient services manager at the hospital, and a first-aider, attended to Lisa's injuries after the altercation.
She said there "were prominent scratch marks" on Lisa's arm and "there was blood coming out from some of the wounds".
SIPTU trade union official Chris Rowland said Deborah had an "exemplary record" at the hospital and the fight was "a once-off isolated incident".
She said the punishment was too harsh and amounted to a "life sentence" whereby she would never get a job again – and a suspension without pay would have been a sufficient punishment.
Fintan Fagan, chief operations officer with the hospital, said Deborah did not demonstrate that she understood the "breach of trust" that occurred. He also said he didn't think an apology was sincere and maintained the dismissal was just.
The tribunal will deliberate on whether the dismissal was justified.