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QUEENSLAND INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS COMMISSION
Reedman v State of Queensland (Queensland Ambulance Service)  QIRC 140
Reedman, Linda Jane
State of Queensland (Queensland Ambulance Service)
Public Service Appeal – Fair treatment decision
20 April 2021
20 April 2021
Industrial Commissioner Dwyer
Pursuant to s 562C(1)(c) of the Industrial Relations Act 2016 (Qld):
INDUSTRIAL LAW – Public Service Appeal – appeal against a fair treatment decision – disciplinary finding – decision not fair and reasonable.
Industrial Relations Act 2016 (Qld) ss 562B and 562C
Goodall v State of Queensland (unreported decision of the Supreme Court of Queensland, Dalton J, 10 October 2018)
Reasons for Decision
Delivered ex tempore on 20 April 2021
- Ms Linda Reedman is employed with the Queensland Ambulance Service ('the service'). Her substantive position is as officer in charge with the service at Kirwan. She is employed at classification level AT51/3. She is currently on medical leave.
- On or about 11 February 2020, Ms Reedman received correspondence from Deputy-Commissioner Deanne Taylor-Dutton formally setting out five allegations. The correspondence was the culmination of a formal investigation in the preceding months that was prompted by a complaint by Officer Bridget Connell, a subordinate of Ms Reedman’s at Kirwan.
- The allegations made by Ms Connell arose from complaints about Ms Reedman’s conduct during a period between approximately October 2015 and March 2018, though for the most part, the conduct complained of occurred between October 2015 and October 2017.
- As an aside, I note that there was an extensive delay in the bringing of the complaints, their investigation, and then the allegation subsequently being made against Ms Reedman. I consider such a delay to be potential prejudicial to someone like Ms Reedman, although in the absence of any serious prejudice evidenced in this matter, I do not consider it is relevant for me to deal with the delay.
- Ms Reedman responded to the allegations on 1 June 2020. She had the opportunity to do so in a full and comprehensive way and was able to address each of the allegations in detail.
- On 20 October 2020, the decision-maker issued a decision in which it was concluded that four of the five allegations made against Ms Reedman were substantiated. The details of the allegations that were substantiated will be set out below. The decision-maker determined that each substantiated allegation amounted to a breach of the Code of Conduct for the Queensland Public Service and was consequently grounds for discipline.
- The decision also set out a proposed penalty in the following terms:
A temporary demotion from officer in charge on a pay code AT51-3 of $110,684 base per annum to advanced care paramedic on pay code AP22-7 of $86,590 base per annum for a period of six months. The minimum aggregate rate applicable an advanced care paramedic in Townsville is 26.5% which equates to a further $22,946 per annum (on an AP22-7 pay rate).
- The proposed disciplinary action also foreshadows opportunities to complete training in complaints management and emotional intelligence to assist Ms Reedman to improve her knowledge and skills as a leader within the QAS.
- On 10 November 2020 Ms Reedman filed an appeal against the decision.
- At the hearing on 20 April 2021 it was clarified that the appeal against the decision was in respect of the findings of the substantiated allegations only, and that the conclusions with respect to the unsubstantiated allegation was not sought to be disturbed. Further, the proposed penalty is considered just that; it is a proposed penalty and is not a decision which is or could be the subject of this appeal.
What decisions can the Industrial Commissioner make?
- Section 562B of the Industrial Relations Act 2016 (Qld) ('the IR Act') provides that these appeals are conducted by way of a review of the decision appealed against. Particularly, this is not a rehearing of the matter on its merits. The purpose of these appeals is to decide if the decision was fair and reasonable.
- In deciding this appeal, s 562C(1) of the IR Act provides that I have power to make the following orders:
- (a)confirm the decision appealed against; or
- (b)set the decision aside and return the matter to the decision maker with a copy of the decision on appeal and any directions permitted; or
- (c)set the decision aside and substitute another decision or return the matter to the decision maker with a copy of the decision on appeal and any directions considered appropriate.
Submissions of the parties
- The parties were directed to provide written submissions in this matter, and they did so in accordance with those directions. The parties have filed extensive written submissions and I have had regard to them, though I do not intend to reproduce them in full in these reasons. Suffice it to say that I will refer to the salient aspects of those submissions in the course of my consideration.
- I now turn to my consideration of allegations A, B, C, and D that are set out in the decision.
- Allegation A is:
That on or about 29 December 2015, Ms Reedman included misleading information relating to Ms Bridget Connell in a brief to Assistant Commissioner Robbie Medlin.
- The relevant background to this allegation is that in the period preceding December 2015, for at least 12 months, Ms Reedman was responsible for managing Ms Connell. Throughout that period, it is not disputed that Ms Connell was the subject of a number of complaints from both co-workers and members of the public, and in some cases there was (at some level) management intervention, although it was mostly informal.
- In late 2015, Assistant Commissioner Medlin was appointed to the Kirwan district. As part of familiarising himself with issues under his command, he asked Ms Reedman, in his words, "for information surrounding complaints against Ms Connell." Ms Reedman contends that Assistant Commissioner Medlin asked her to provide, in her words, "a complete history with respect to Ms Connell."
- Notably, the request made by Assistant Commissioner Medlin was verbal. There is some dispute between the parties as to whether the request by Assistant Commissioner Medlin was in fact a request or a lawful direction. In my view, its character is irrelevant for the purposes of this appeal. The only issue is whether Ms Reedman’s response included misleading information.
- The fact that the request was verbal means that there is no way to objectively evaluate the request with any precision. The versions offered by Assistant Commissioner Medlin and Ms Reedman, in my view, are not substantially different. The language or the terms "information surrounding complaints" is very open-ended and objectively, it invites a response that is open to wide interpretation.
- I note that it refers only to "complaints". It does not specify that he is seeking information only in relation to substantiated complaints, nor does it appear that he is seeking information in respect to Ms Connell’s views in respect of these complaints, or their sequel (if any).
- Ms Reedman provided a response to Assistant Commissioner Medlin in the form of a confidential briefing note on 29 December 2015. It is fair to say, having regard to the briefing note, that it does go beyond what was requested in that it contains recommendations e.g. as to what action should be taken with respect to Ms Connell.
- Whilst it is evident that the briefing note goes beyond the request for information surrounding complaints, the real question for my consideration here is whether the briefing note contained misleading information.
- The particulars as to the misleading information are set out in a letter detailing the allegations that was provided to Ms Reedman on 11 February 2020. That letter is annexed to the Appeal Notice and those particulars are found at page 3 of that letter. The particulars bear some examination in light of the nature of the allegation.
- The particulars of the misleading information are (in summary) as follows:
- Firstly, in respect to a reference to a complaint from a 'Mr Murphy', the misleading nature of this information is said to be that Ms Connell says she never received an outcome to the complaint;
- The second particular is in relation to a complaint identified as having been made in January of 2015. The allegation is that the complaint was unsubstantiated and involved multiple officers, not just Ms Connell, and in the decision-maker’s mind, it was questionable as to why it was relevant;
- The third particular in respect of misleading information is that the complaint listed under September 2015 does not indicate whether the complaint was substantiated or not, though it is speculated that the words "officer in charge counselled officers on attitude towards senior staff" indicates the complaint was substantiated.
- The fourth particular provided is that Ms Connell says that she was never informed of the complaint made by SOS Bennett and was not interviewed as part of any process.
- The fifth particular is that Ms Reedman provided a comment in the briefing note to the effect that there were three other public complaints of a similar nature prior to the abovementioned, all relating to attitude and less than professional behaviour. But Ms Reedman did not advise whether they are substantiated complaints.
- Given the broad nature of the request made by Assistant Commissioner Medlin, especially that it was in relation to complaints in the broadest of senses, it is difficult in my view to see how the briefing note information was misleading. The particulars provided do not suggest that the 'complaints' identified by Ms Reedman were not made.
- I note that there is some conjecture from Ms Connell as to some of the details around these complaints or the outcomes of these complaints, or whether she was even aware of these complaints. But the request made by Assistant Commissioner was to provide information surrounding complaints: not substantiated complaints, not unsubstantiated complaints, not pending complaints, but simply (and broadly) information surrounding complaints.
- In the broadest possible terms, in my view, Ms Reedman has complied with that direction. The fact that the views of Ms Connell might differ from those of Ms Reedman does not change the objective fact that Ms Connell has identified documented complaints.
- Further, the unsolicited subjective views of Ms Reedman with respect to what actions should be taken and recommendations etc that were not requested by Assistant Commissioner Medlin do not equate to misleading information. In my view, the term 'misleading information' carries with it certain serious connotations. The response from Ms Reedman may have been coloured by her subjective perceptions of Ms Connell at that time. But that does not make her opinions expressed about these matters or what steps should be taken in relation to these matters misleading.
- It must be remembered that Ms Reedman was Ms Connell’s manager. The response of Ms Reedman to Assistant Commissioner Medlin reflects, on some level, a loss of objectivity with respect to her management of Ms Connell. But in my view, on the facts, it was not fairly open to the decision-maker to substantiate an allegation that the information included in the briefing note was misleading information.
- It follows from that conclusion that I consider the decision with respect to allegation A is not fair and reasonable. In the circumstances, I intend to set aside that aspect of the decision and substitute it with a decision that allegation A is not substantiated.
- In respect of allegation B, the allegation was originally in two parts. In the decision, only the first part has been found to have been substantiated, so I intend to deal only with that part. Allegation B is that:
In October 2015, Ms Reedman informed a union delegate, Mr Jon Mawdsley, that "somebody is a bigger bully in Townsville LASN than Lara Jedyn – Bridget Connell."
- At the hearing on 20 April 2021, it was established from answers from the representatives for the parties that the evidence as to the context of this statement is scant. I note that Ms Reedman denies having made the allegation although she did indicate that she had struggled to recall the conversation. That is not surprising, given that she was being asked to recall the details of a conversation approximately five years after it occurred.
- I accept, on the evidence of Mr Mawdsley, that it was open to the decision-maker to conclude that Ms Reedman said the words that are attributed to her in this allegation i.e. that she referred to Ms Connell as a bully. I do not accept, however, that it was open for the decision-maker on the evidence to conclude that those words were inappropriate in the absence of a fuller context.
- All that is known about this conversation is that:
- It occurred in October 2015;
- The only participants to the conversation were Ms Reedman and Mr Mawdsley; and
- Mr Mawdsley was acting in his capacity as a union representative.
- Nothing else about the statement given by Mr Mawdsley to the investigator and relied on by the decision maker provides any more meaningful context than that.
- I can think of any number of contexts in which the language said to be used by Ms Reedman would be inappropriate. Equally, I can think of any number of contexts in which it would be entirely legitimate for Ms Reedman to describe a subordinate in that way, especially during a private (but official) discussion with a union official. The difficulty with the lack of context is that there is no way to reliably conclude which category the statement falls into.
- It is not open for me to speculate as to the purpose or intent of Ms Reedman in respect of having made that remark but, more importantly, it was not open for the decision-maker to speculate either.
- In my view there was inadequate evidence to substantiate this allegation. It follows that my view is that the decision in respect of allegation B is not fair and reasonable. In the circumstances, I propose to set aside that part of the decision and substitute it with a decision that allegation B is not substantiated.
- I now turn to allegation C. Allegation C is that:
In December 2015, Ms Reedman became angry and aggressive towards Ms Bridget Connell during a meeting in relation to a complaint Ms Connell made about a student observer making inappropriate sexist remarks.
- The facts surrounding this particular allegation are not materially disputed. Ms Reedman has little recall of the event but certainly acknowledges that she apologised for her conduct in this instance. The evidence relied on by the decision-maker was from Ms Connell and a 'Mr Cooper' who was an independent direct eyewitness to the alleged conduct.
- I note two things in relation to this allegation. Firstly, the allegation contains the words "angry" and "aggressive" towards Ms Bridget Connell. I consider the use of both of those words is an indication that, at least from the person who framed the allegation, they regard them as independent concepts. I agree. I do not think in this context that the term angry and aggressive mean the same thing. Further, I consider the term or the allegation that someone is being aggressive towards somebody else is more serious than an allegation that someone has been angry towards somebody.
- Importantly, there is no evidence at all from either of the witnesses (Ms Connell or Mr Cooper) that Ms Reedman was aggressive towards Ms Connell. Having regard to the transcripts of the records of interview at annexures 11 and 12 of the material provided by the service, the statements provided by Ms Connell and Ms Cooper clearly refer to Ms Reedman as being "angry" and "red in the face", but neither of them used the term "aggressive".
- In my view, the allegation insofar as it alleges that Ms Reedman was angry towards Ms Bridget Connell was open to be substantiated on the evidence. However, it was not open for the decision-maker to conclude that Ms Reedman was aggressive towards Ms Connell.
- While it might seem like a small detail, if Reedman is to be subjected to disciplinary action in respect of this allegation (particularly disciplinary action that alleges that she was aggressive towards a co-worker) in my view it is important that such an allegation is properly substantiated, given that it could have lasting impacts on her career.
- Secondly, it was raised by the representative on behalf of Ms Reedman at the proceedings today that the decision-maker attributes Ms Reedman’s conduct to a particular state of mind. The relevant passage in the decision reads as follows:
It is clear to me that you allowed your frustration with Ms Connell’s alleged continued inappropriate behaviour and attitude to prevent you from performing your role in an unbiased way.
- In my view, that conclusion was not open to the decision-maker. Whilst there is essentially irrefutable evidence that Ms Reedman was angry towards Ms Connell, there is no basis upon which the decision-maker could conclude why she was angry. In my view such a conclusion reflects poorly on Ms Reedman as a manager, and given that it is incapable of substantiation, such a conclusion is unfair and unreasonable.
- Whilst I consider that part of allegation C, (the part that alleges that Ms Reedman was angry towards Ms Connell) is open to be substantiated, it is not fair and reasonable for the decision-maker to have concluded that Ms Reedman was aggressive towards Ms Connell or to attribute a state of mind to Ms Reedman’s actions at the time.
- In respect of allegation C, I intend to set aside that part of the decision, but I further intend to send the matter back to the decision-maker for fresh consideration in respect of these matters.
- With respect to allegation D, the allegation is that:
In October 2017, Ms Reedman failed to afford Ms Bridget Connell natural justice in relation to allegations that Ms Connell behaved inappropriately towards others.
- Briefly, the background with respect to this allegation is that Ms Reedman received a complaint from Ms Connell about the conduct of a co-worker. In the process of investigating that complaint, certain adverse comments were made by other witnesses and co-workers about Ms Connell.
- Ultimately, Ms Reedman briefed Assistant Commissioner Medlin on 13 October 2017 in relation to all of these complaints and remarkably, notwithstanding that Ms Connell was the initiator of a complaint about a co-worker, the briefing note by Ms Reedman concluded that Ms Connell be subjected to a disciplinary process. Even more remarkably, Ms Connell had no notice that these matters were being put before Assistant Commissioner Medlin.
- Whether (as Ms Reedman says), Ms Connell had gone on leave and was unable to be contacted to provide a response to these new allegations, or whether she was still working is not relevant. What is relevant in my view is that Ms Reedman forwarded a complaint with recommendations of serious disciplinary action without putting Ms Connell on notice of that. This is a quintessential denial of natural justice.
- In my view, it is more than open for the decision-maker to have found that allegation D was substantiated. In my view, the decision with respect to allegation D was fair and reasonable, and I intend to confirm the decision.
- I should add that in respect of Ms Reedman’s conduct that gives rise to allegation D, it seems to me that it is more a case of managerial ineptitude rather than a case of malice or wilful intent to conduct herself in that way.
Disposition of the matter
- Before I make orders in this matter, I wish to make some observations both about the proposed penalty and the matter generally, though I note that such observations are not binding on the parties.
- Having regard to all of the evidence in this matter, it is my view that Ms Reedman has struggled in her role as a manager in respect of Ms Connell. It would seem to me that her struggles in this regard have, from time to time, impaired her judgment and clouded her objectivity with respect to her management functions. These are not surprising features to find in someone who was perhaps not fully equipped at dealing with difficult 'people management' issues.
- I note that it appears from the submissions made by the parties today that Ms Reedman is otherwise regarded as a well-qualified senior employee. While I appreciate that the allegations that have been substantiated will necessarily require some disciplinary measures, in my view, the central focus for the outcome in this matter should be the provision of proper training for Ms Reedman so that she can better manage such situations if they arise again.
- I would consider that a short period of supervision or mentoring as an officer in charge would be a more fitting penalty than the loss of income and status that comes from a temporary demotion. But as I observed above, these are matters for the decision-maker on the return of this matter to them.
- For those reasons, I make the following order:
Pursuant to s 562C(1)(c) of the Industrial Relations Act 2016 (Qld):
- The decision in relation to allegation A is set aside and substituted with a decision that allegation A is not substantiated;
- The decision in relation to allegation B is set aside and substituted with a decision that allegation B is not substantiated;
- The decision in relation to allegation C is set aside and I return the matter to the decision-maker with a copy of these reasons for fresh consideration; and
- The decision with respect to Allegation D is confirmed.
- Published Case Name:
Reedman v State of Queensland (Queensland Ambulance Service)
- Shortened Case Name:
Reedman v State of Queensland (Queensland Ambulance Service)
 QIRC 140
Member Dwyer IC
20 Apr 2021