Council CEO sues and is then sacked
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.