A whistleblower who complained of a racist and misogynistic workplace culture at a Scottish Government controlled Marine Scotland office has claimed she was restrained in a chair and gagged by two male co-workers in response to her speaking out.
DeeAnn Fitzpatrick is a civil servant and Canadian national employed as a fisheries officer at Marine Scotland’s office in Scrabster on the Caithness coast, Scotland. Fitzpatrick claims that she was subjected to bullying, harassment and a sustained pattern of racist and misogynistic behaviour over a period of nearly ten years whilst working at the office. Her claims are currently being considered at an employment tribunal in Aberdeen. Allegations include that she was mocked for having a miscarriage, advised by co-workers that they didn’t want to work with a ‘foreign woman’ and subjected to racist language. Fitzpatrick has been unable to work and has been signed off on sick leave since November 2016, after also experiencing a family bereavement during this time.
BBC Scotland have obtained and released a photograph of the described event earlier this month, taken by one of the men allegedly responsible. It pictures Ms Fitzpatrick gagged and secured in the chair with packaging tape. Fitzpatrick claims that she was subjected to the treatment as a result of ‘blowing the whistle’ on the behaviour of her male colleagues. She has stated that in 2010, two male colleagues had restrained her in the chair before telling her ‘This is what you get when you speak out against the boys’. When Ms Fitzpatrick reported the incident to her manager she was advised that he would ‘have words’ with the colleagues involved but the matter was not reportedly escalated any further.
While the Tribunal proceedings are ongoing, Ms Fitzpatrick is also understood to be involved in disciplinary procedures in the workplace with a hearing due at the end of May. The allegations levelled against her are that she is ‘overzealous’ in the performance of her work duties and is rude to Clients. Ms Fitzpatrick and her supporters feel that the disciplinary procedures are a sham and are in place only to remove her from her position.
Marine Scotland acts as a watchdog for the Scottish fisheries and aquaculture industries and is a Civil Service directorate within the Scottish Government. A government spokesperson has advised a statement will not be made as the issue surrounds ‘internal staffing issues’. The government does not wish to ‘pre-empt’ the outcome as there are internal disciplinary procedures running concurrently with the Employment Tribunal claim. The spokesperson has confirmed however that the government is satisfied that there are ‘clear standards of behaviour which apply to all staff’.
One of the two co-accused Jody Paske – who is no longer employed by Marine Scotland, has dismissed the allegations as ‘office banter’ and ‘Just a craic’. The second remains employed by Marine Scotland and as a Civil servant he is subjected to the civil service code so cannot pass comment outside of proceedings, the same is true for Ms Fitzpatrick. Rhonda Grant a Labour MSP who has been supporting Ms Fitzpatrick since she brought the allegations to her back in 2010 has labelled the picture ‘horrific’ and stated that a zero tolerance approach should be taken against such practices.
The tribunal case has gained media attention across the world for all the wrong reasons, but it does bring to light the importance of ensuring that a sound whistleblowing policy is in place and that employees at all levels are fully informed of the process. Whistleblowing is the colloquial term for when a worker reports suspected wrongdoing at work. If a worker makes a disclosure to their employers or an external organisation it will be protected under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. The legislation is in place to ensure that workers are not subjected to detriment or any form of retaliation as a result of alerting others to malpractice within their organisation.
DeeAnn’s sister-in-law has issued a statement on YouTube condemning the restriction on LeeAnn speaking about what has happened to her:
In response the Scottish Government has pointed out that LeeAnn was subject to the confidentiality provisions in the civil service code. However, when challenged by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, they said:
“If Ms Fitzpatrick wishes to speak to the media, instead of using established routes for raising complaints, she will not be disciplined for the fact of giving an interview.
“However, the Scottish government has suggested that she takes legal advice or advice from her trade union rep to ensure that the content of any interview does not breach her obligations under the civil service code.”