Wednesday 21 August 2019

Engineer loses bullying claim

A retired engineer who claimed he was bullied while working with Sligo County Council has had a High Court claim for personal injuries dismissed.

Ciaran Culkin took an action against the council for whom he worked for over 39 years having begun with the local authority as an apprentice technician in 1970.

However, his personal injury action was dismissed by Mr Justice P. Kearns on the basis that Mr Culkin had brought the same complaint before a hearing of the Equality Tribunal which rejected his claim.

Mr Culkin issued proceedings against the council in February 2011 and the High Court noted that he had issued a complaint before the Equality Tribunal in September 2009.

The form he submitted to the tribunal outlined the details of the bullying he was allegedly subjected to and he was afforded a four day hearing.

At the outset of the tribunal hearing the option of pursuing his complaint before it or through the courts was made clear to him and he opted to pursue a remedy before the tribunal.

Mr Justice Kearns said he was satisfied Mr Culkin was now prevented from resiling from this position after having his claim rejected by the tribunal.

The judge said the matters complained of in the proceedings issued before the tribunal and the court both date from the time a new supervisor was appointed and arose from the very same alleged incidents of mistreatment.

A precedent case had established that where there is such a considerable degree of overlap, the plaintiff should be precluded from pursuing his High Court proceedings.

The Judge added that Mr Culkin's right of appeal to the Labour Court remains and his right to an effective remedy was therefore unaffected.

However, the Judge said he was dismissing the plaintiff's personal injuries claim.

In his judgement, Mr Justice Kearns noted that Mr Culkin attained two diplomas in engineering during his time with the council and was promoted a number of times until he reached the rank of Senior Executive Technician. He also earned a B.Eng. Hons degree in 2005.

It was contended that he began to experience difficulties at work in or around 1996 when a new supervisor was appointed.

A report prepared in January 2010 by the Anti-bullying Research and Resource Centre at Trinity College detailed the nature of the bullying Mr Culkin was allegedly subjected to.

It was alleged he experienced various kinds of negative behaviours including that information regarding training courses and opportunities was withheld from him, that malicious rumours were spread about him, that he was ordered to perform tasks below his level of competence, that he was excluded and isolated socially, that he was denied pay increments and promotion opportunities, that his opinions were neglected despite his experience and that he was treated with hostility.

It was alleged this behaviour left the plaintiff suffering with a number of psychological and physiological symptoms. After completing his degree in 2005, he applied for a number of engineering positions only to be deemed "not qualified" for promotion.

Mr Culkin complained he was continuously frustrated in his attempts to obtain relevant engineering experience within the council because of his age and his disability, which he contended was induced by historic bullying and harassment.

He began a grievance procedure in early 2000 but said this was unsatisfactorily concluded in 2005. Mr Culkin claimed the council failed to deal appropriately with systematic bullying and exclusion until he was ultimately constructively dismissed in May 2009.

His case was heard before the Equality Tribunal on dates in 2012 and 2013. John Moran,

The Senior Executive Officer with the council said a preliminary submission was made to the tribunal expressing the council's view that the matters before it were the same as those being pursued in the High Court and that Mr Culkin was precluded from pursuing both claims.

Mr Moran said that rather than seeking to have the matter before the tribunal adjourned, Mr Culkin requested that the Equality Officer continue to hear the case. At the High Court, the council sought an order striking out Mr Culkin's

proceedings. Mr Justice Kearns said he was satisfied the matter must be dismissed.

He said the rule in the Henderson Vs Henderson case was well established and was frequently applied as part of the policy of the courts to avoid double litigation of the same issues.

The rule was in the interests of all parties to a case, who should not be expected to prosecute or defend proceedings repeatedly, and to the public, who have an interest in ensuring that court time is not wasted, said Mr Justice Kearns.

Sligo Champion