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December 2019

Bogus redundancy proves costly

Bogus redundancy proves costly

The Case

Tran v Macquarie University (2019)

Macquarie University employed Ms Tran, whose employment was terminated for the alleged reason of redundancy. Ms Tran did not accept this explanation and filed a general protections claim. Ms Tran claimed that her employment was terminated because she had exercised her workplace rights by making a series of workplace complaints about treatment by her supervisors.

An email sent in November 2015 by Ms Chellappah (one of Ms Tran’s supervisors) stated: “As you are aware Hein (Ms Tran) and Fouzia (Ms Zia) are difficult individuals and are poisonous to a team environment”.

In October 2016, a paper was released that proposed to make Ms Tran’s position redundant.

The Verdict

The Federal Circuit Court found that:

  • the proposed restructure to alter Ms Tran’s position amounted to adverse action;
  • Ms Tran’s workplace complaints were a “substantial or operative factor” in influencing the adverse action;
  • Ms Chellappah had a substantial role in the restructure and decision to terminate Ms Tran’s employment; and
  • Macquarie University had not rebutted the presumption that adverse action had occurred, as Ms Chellappah did not give evidence in the proceedings.

Ms Tran was awarded compensation.

The Lessons

Employers should ensure that:

  • an employee’s employment is not terminated for reasons that include a prohibited reason;
  • there is a paper trail to support that the termination was not for a prohibited reason;
  • the ultimate decision-maker is not someone who has a history of conflict with the employee; and
  • persons involved in the decision-making process to terminate an employee’s employment should provide evidence in any proceedings that contest the basis for that decision.
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