Melbourne council sued over alleged bullying
Prominent employment lawyer from Maurice Blackburn, Josh Bornstein, said the conduct alleged against Melbourne City Council amounted to one of the worst cases of workplace bullying he had come across in his career.
He said the “extraordinary catalogue of severe and protracted workplace bullying” also included baseless and invasive directives for Mr Morton to attend medical appointments and excluding him from meetings.
“It was particularly cruel and humiliating,” Mr Bornstein said.
“I can only assume that this matter has not come to the attention of senior officers at the City of Melbourne. Once they are apprised of the facts in this case, I am sure they will be as horrified by this case as I am.”
A Melbourne City Council spokesperson said it would be inappropriate to comment on any matter before the courts.
“We are concerned that this matter is distressing for those involved and public speculation will only add to this distress,” the spokesperson said.
“We will seek to appropriately support our employees at this time.”
According to a statement of claim filed in the Federal Court, Mr Morton was employed by the City of Melbourne as a park ranger in 2016.
About a year later he allegedly injured his knee while patrolling, which required him to avoid walking in steep or slippery terrain and minimise stair use. Maurice Blackburn claims he was otherwise able to perform all his duties.
The statement of claim alleges the manager tried to undermine Mr Morton’s Workcover claim over his injured knee by telling investigators “irrelevant, untrue and unfounded allegations”.
The court documents say that in July 2018, the co-ordinator convened a team meeting in which she “said that she had received advice that the best thing to do was get the entire team to hate Mr Morton, so he would then resign”.
Mr Bornstein said the situation deteriorated after Mr Morton complained about his experiences at work to Melbourne City Council’s human resources department and more senior managers.
The statement of claim says the City of Melbourne outlined multiple allegations against Mr Morton.
Maurice Blackburn says these included that he sent an inappropriate text to a colleague saying “she wins”, his behaviour, tone and manner were inappropriate, he failed to comply with a direction to attend an independent medical exam, he acted inappropriately by writing “xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo” in an email, he did not co-operate in a disciplinary meeting and he refused to attend a team meeting.
The statement of claim says Mr Morton was suspended in September last year and the City of Melbourne appointed Wise Workplace to conduct an investigation into some of the allegations against Mr Morton.
It says the investigation concluded that the allegations against Mr Morton that were the subject of its investigation could not be substantiated.
Mr Bornstein said the impact on Mr Morton had been profound and he was seeking compensation for the loss and damage he had suffered.
“This includes damage to his reputation, after the bully in this case spread baseless rumours about Mr Morton following his suspension.”
According to the statement of claim, the manager had notified some City of Melbourne employees that security had been placed at Mr Morton’s normal place of employment because he was dangerous, he had kidnapped another staff member and if Mr Morton approached them they should contact police.
Mr Morton is also seeking orders compelling the City of Melbourne to undergo regular anti-bullying training.
“Protecting workers from bullying in the workplace should be the utmost priority for all employers, but especially the City of Melbourne because of the important public role they play and the recent troubled history they have had in terms of workplace health and safety,” Mr Bornstein said.
Jewel Topsfield is Melbourne Editor of The Age.