Sonia Hughes v NTSCORP Limited. (U2014/12897) [2015] FWC 6045. LAWLER, VP. 2 SEPTEMBER 2015


The Respondent is a publicly funded native title representative body in New South Wales. It has a number of divisions including the Strategic Development division and the Legal division. The Applicant was employed as a Senior Lands and Notification Officer in the Strategic Development division, prior to her redundancy.


The Applicant was employed in the legal division of Land Titles Office in the position of Lawyer, and then promoted to the position of Manager, Status Branch within Crown Lands, before being made redundant.


As a result of her long experience in the area, the Applicant had developed significant expertise and experience in the investigation of land titles devoting long hours to her work, to the extent that the respondent forbade her from working weekends without permissions.


Over this period the Applicant’s relations with other staff deteriorated. There were complaints about personal behaviours affecting others and a particular tension developed between the Applicant and the head of the Legal division, Ms Mishka Holt. The Applicant’s manager, Ms Hariharan, stated that the Applicant was a difficult employee.


The Applicant had made a bullying complaint against Ms Holt.


The Respondent advertised a vacancy for a lawyer in the Legal division. The Applicant submitted an application. She was not granted an interview but did not discover this fact until she opened and read an email sent to staff asking them to keep noise to a minimum while the interviews were proceeding.


Mr Tonna, the Applicant’s closest friend in the workplace, with the two of them regularly having coffee together, stated that:


“When I received the all-staff email, almost immediately Sonia, who I believe had also received the email at the time, stood up and said words to the effect:


‘F**k NTSCORP. They don’t treat me as a lawyer. I’m not going to do any more of the project tables. Mishka Holt – she’ll get hers.’


The words directed at Mishka Holt were very aggressive and caused me a great deal of concern as to Mishka’s safety.”


Mr Tonna was sufficiently concerned by the tone and content of the Applicant’s outburst that he reported his concerns to management.


Ms Holt was heavily pregnant at the time. The CEO, Ms Rotumah, was sufficiently concerned to instruct Ms Holt to leave the workplace and work from home.


The Applicant clearly regarded the actions of Mr Tonna as amounting to personal treachery. She left two threatening telephone messages on Mr Tonna’s phone. The threats were menacing and unpleasant.


The Applicant refused to participate in any disciplinary process, asserting that a decision to terminate her had already been made.


The VP findings:


I found this a difficult matter to decide. Counsel for the Applicant advanced forceful arguments in support of a finding that the dismissal was harsh even if the Applicant’s conduct amounted to a valid reason for the dismissal. Given the Applicant’s genuinely held belief that she was not being treated fairly by the Respondent, an outburst on learning that she had not even been afforded an interview for the position in the Legal division might not, of itself, have justified dismissal, particularly if the Applicant had apologised or shown some remorse or regret. Instead, the Applicant made threats to Mr Tonna and showed no interest in engaging with management over the incident.


In determining whether a dismissal was harsh, unjust or unreasonable it is necessary to accord a “fair go all round” and not simply to view the matter from the perspective of the employee. When that approach is adopted I am unable to find that the dismissal was harsh, unjust or unreasonable.”

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