Coun­cil CEO sues and is then sacked

The Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - RE­NATO CASTELLO AN­DREW HOUGH

THE state’s high­est­paid coun­cil boss has been sacked for re­peated mis­con­duct, in­clud­ing sex­ual ha­rass­ment, just one day af­ter launch­ing le­gal ac­tion against his em­ployer over its han­dling of a work­place safety in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

For­mer Play­ford Coun­cil chief ex­ec­u­tive Mal Hem­mer­ling, pic­tured, is seek­ing a Supreme Court in­junc­tion and un­spec­i­fied dam­ages against the coun­cil, which de­cided to dis­miss him with im­me­di­ate ef­fect dur­ing a se­cret meet­ing on Thurs­day.

The coun­cil’s deputy mayor, Mar­i­lyn Baker, yesterday said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion raised con­cerns about Dr Hem­mer­ling’s “re­peated sex­ual ha­rass­ment of a num­ber of fe­male em­ploy­ees, bul­ly­ing, and mis­man­age­ment”.

Dr Hem­mer­ling, who de­nies any wrong­do­ing, has ac­cused the coun­cil of act­ing il­le­gally when it orig­i­nally sus­pended him a month ago on full pay from his $372,978-a-year role, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments filed on Wed­nes­day.

In a nine-page court state­ment of grounds, Dr Hem­mer­ling, 72, as­serts the coun­cil’s de­ci­sions were “in­valid, un­law­ful, and void” as the 15 elected mem­bers did not have the power to sus­pend him while in care­taker mode ahead of the coun­cil elec­tions.

“By this ju­di­cial re­view pro­ceed­ing, (he) seeks an or­der … quash­ing and set­ting aside the de­ci­sions made by the coun­cil,” ac­cord­ing to the state­ment, filed by Grif­fin Lawyers.

“(This in­cludes) to sus­pend (Dr Hem­mer­ling) from his po­si­tion as chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the coun­cil and to ap­point Ms Su­san Zeitz to in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions re­lat­ing to (his) con­duct.”

Dr Hem­mer­ling as­serts that he had “not yet been af­forded a proper or rea­son­able op­por­tu­nity to con­sider, in­ves­ti­gate and re­spond to all of the al­le­ga­tions” un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The for­mer Adelaide Grand Prix supremo, who was ap­pointed chief ex­ec­u­tive in Septem­ber 2015, is also seek­ing to ban the coun­cil from be­ing able to act upon any find­ings of Ms Zeitz.

Dr Hem­mer­ling said yesterday he would sue Ms Baker for defama­tion, claim­ing she “falsely as­serted” he failed to par­tic­i­pate in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Ms Baker said Dr Hem­mer­ling was given writ­ten al­le­ga­tions on Novem­ber 22 but de­clined to meet with Ms Zeitz or re­spond to the al­le­ga­tions against him by a Novem­ber 30 dead­line. “The se­ri­ous­ness of the al­le­ga­tions, un­cov­ered through the in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and Mr Hem­mer­ling’s de­ci­sion to not be in­ter­viewed or to re­spond to the al­le­ga­tions left coun­cil with no al­ter­na­tive but to dis­miss Mr Hem­mer­ling,” Ms Baker said in a writ­ten state­ment, is­sued through pub­lic re­la­tions firm Ball PR.

“Coun­cil is sat­is­fied that it has acted re­spon­si­bly, de­ci­sively and in a timely way on all the in­for­ma­tion be­fore it.

“Coun­cil has acted to en­sure a safe and se­cure work­place while pro­vid­ing Mr Hem­mer­ling with the op­por­tu­nity to re­spond to al­le­ga­tions against him.”

But lawyer Greg Grif­fin, on be­half of Dr Hem­mer­ling, said it was “sim­ply un­true” his client had de­clined to meet with Ms Zeitz and ac­cused Ms Baker of an “out­ra­geous slur”.

“We made the po­si­tion that the al­le­ga­tions against Dr Hem­mer­ling were in many re­spects un­nec­es­sar­ily and ex­ces­sively vague in gen­eral,” Mr Grif­fin said in a me­dia re­lease.

“Even at their high­est the al­le­ga­tions made could not jus­tify a finding of wil­ful mis­con­duct on the part of Dr Hem­mer­ling.

“Coun­cil has been on no­tice from De­cem­ber 4, 2018, that Dr Hem­mer­ling re­mained pre­pared to par­tic­i­pate in the Zeitz in­ves­ti­ga­tion. He did so, how­ever, on the ba­sis that he was af­forded pro­ce­dural fair­ness and nat­u­ral jus­tice which to date had been de­nied to him.”

Ms Baker said the coun­cil would “vig­or­ously de­fend” Dr Hem­mer­ling’s claim against the process to sus­pend him.

“The coun­cil stands by its de­ci­sion and its pub­lic state­ment fol­low­ing its unan­i­mous de­ci­sion to ter­mi­nate Dr Hem­mer­ling’s em­ploy­ment in light of the coun­cil’s find­ings of the re­peated sex­ual ha­rass­ment of a num­ber of fe­male em­ploy­ees, bul­ly­ing, and mis­man­age­ment that flowed from the in­de­pen- dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” she said.

Rob Ball, of Ball PR, said that Dr Hem­mer­ling would be paid ac­crued en­ti­tle­ments, in­clud­ing out­stand­ing leave.

He said that Mayor Glenn Docherty ex­cused him­self from Thurs­day’s vote to sack Dr Hem­mer­ling be­cause he had “in­di­cated that he had been in­ter­viewed on a re­lated staffing mat­ter and that this may give rise to a per­cep­tion of bias on his part”.

Dr Hem­mer­ling is also seek­ing an in­junc­tion against Ms Zeitz, who de­clined to com­ment.

LAW­SUIT: Mal Hem­mer­ling has launched le­gal ac­tion over a work­place safety in­ves­ti­ga­tion that led to his sus­pen­sion.

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