Mr Williamson complained to the WRC that in the wake of making the complaint to gardaí he was subjected to false bullying allegations
Conor Williamson this week welcomed the findings of the WRC and said his decision to report his concerns to gardai, following the euthanasia of two dogs at the pound, had come after management failed to act on his concerns.
Mr Williamson was a dog warden at Ashton Dog Pound, an animal shelter at River Road, Castleknock, that operated a service for the greater Dublin area, when he went to gardai in July 2020.
He complained to the WRC that in the wake of making the complaint to gardaí, he was subjected to false bullying allegations and a disciplinary process that amounted to ‘penalisation’ under the Protected Disclosures Act.
Despite enduring what he described as ‘a very difficult period in the wake of going to the guards’, Mr Williamson told the Sunday World that he did not regret making the complaint. “My primary concern was the welfare of the dogs,” he said.
“Regardless of the circumstances, dogs are intelligent animals and deserve to be treated with dignity.
“This was never about financial gain for me.
“It was about doing the right thing.”
In making its findings and conclusions, the WRC noted: “That Mr Hugh Hegarty of Management Support Services who represented the respondent (Ashton Dog Pound) also had involvement in the investigatory and disciplinary process which the complainant was subject to during the course of his employment.”
The findings continued: “Having examined the evidence and heard oral testimony, I am satisfied that the complainant (Mr Williamson) was subjected to a spurious investigation and disciplinary process and a suspension of work which was not warranted which amounts to penalisation under the Act.
“In relation to the complaint of bullying and harassment by a number of colleagues against the complainant; upon review of said statements, I consider that they are contrived and have the hallmarks of an orchestrated campaign by management to intimidate and bully the complainant.
“It would appear to me that the statements had been rehearsed and I note that a number of these same staff retracted their statements shortly after making them.
“Based on the testimony of the complainant at hearing and written submissions, the allegations seemed to purport to the complainant staring/glaring at individuals.
“The complainant (Mr Williamson) gave testimony to state that as soon as he went into work in the morning, he went out in the van to carry out his duties and therefore would not be present at the premises to such an extent so as to justify the purported bullying and harassing other staff members.
“I also note that the complainant was employed with the respondent since 2017, however many of the issues giving rise to invoking the disciplinary processes seem to have arisen following the complainant making his protected disclosure in July 2020 to his employer and to the Gardai.”
The WRC said it was “noteworthy that the respondent (Ashton Dog Pound) offered the complainant a severance package comprising a non-disclosure agreement in an effort to exit the complainant out of the organisation.
“Based on the totality of the evidence heard, I am satisfied that the suspension of the complainant on foot of the allegations by six staff members of bullying and harassment against the complainant was a form of penalisation,” Work Relations Commission adjudicating officer Valerie Murtagh said.
“I also find that the investigation and disciplinary process was flawed and I find that the complainant faced retaliation for the earlier reporting of animal abuse and veterinary practices to his employer and to the Gardai.”
She continued: “I find that the within complaint under the Protected Disclosures Act is well-founded.
“I order the respondent to pay the complainant €18,000 in financial compensation for said breach of the Act.”
Phone calls from the Sunday World to Ashton Dog Pound on Wednesday and Thursday seeking comment went unanswered.
Hugh Hegarty of Management Support Services, who represented Ashton Dog Pound at the proceedings, did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.