A sacked lawyer’s wrongful dismissal complaint was dismissed by the Workplace Relations Board after his request to subpoena additional witnesses and his mother’s repeated interruptions prevented the hearing from proceeding for more five o’clock today.
Mmi Burke also demanded that the lead defense attorney retract his remark that the Burke family were like a ‘traveling circus’ – calling it ‘highly defamatory’.
The firm in question, Arthur Cox, denies unfairly dismissing Ms Burke, of Castlebar, Co Mayo, arguing that there was a breakdown in her relationship with three senior partners in the banking and finance division, where she was a junior partner when of his first placement after qualifying.
The committee was told yesterday by Ultan Shannon, a partner in the firm’s banking and finance group, that the incidents included Ms Burke ‘trying out’ the most senior partner in her division after the associate has sent an e-mail inviting him to a lunch. along with two other new lawyers on his team to “celebrate” his qualification.
He also said Ms Burke also slammed fellow partner Kevin Lynch when he stopped to congratulate her on reaching a deal. The witness said Ms Burke told Mr Lynch ‘she shouldn’t have worked so late on this transaction if her team had done their job’.
Peter Ward SC, who appeared for the firm with Mairead McKenna BL, on behalf of Daniel Spring & Co Solicitors, was due this morning to call firm managing partner Geoff Moore to give evidence about his decision to dismiss Ms Burke.
But before Mr Moore could be sworn in, Ms Burke renewed her request for the adjudicating officer to summon former Arthur Cox partner Mr Lynch and the firm’s director of human resources, Ruth D ‘Alton, as witnesses.
“My very firm position this morning is that this matter should not proceed without hearing from Ms. Dalton, the human resources manager who was at the termination meeting, and Mr. Lynch, who is one of the three directors founding the company. ‘case,’ she said, calling on the adjudication officer, Kevin Baneham, to issue subpoenas for witnesses and an evidentiary order for the emails.
Ms Burke said the company relied on her interaction with Mr Lynch when he came to thank her for her work on the deal the following Monday as a “pillar” of its defence.
“I just said that I didn’t think it was okay for me to be left in the office because of his team socializing,” she told the commission. “This court needs to have Mr. Lynch here to testify,” she said.
She added that the emails she was looking for would support her account of the night’s timeline.
At that point Ms Burke’s mother, Martina Burke, who was attending in support of her daughter and is expected to be called as a witness, spoke.
“It’s a push of a button. What is the problem with receiving emails? Why so much hesitation? It’s the push of a button,” Ms Burke said.
“The emails go to the accuracy of a young lawyer who was fired based on a two-minute conversation about what happened the previous weekend,” her daughter said.
“What’s the problem? My daughter was working 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. … she’d been working non-stop for 18 hours for Arthur Cox,” Ms Burke continued.
“Mrs. Burke, please,” said the adjudicating officer, as Ms. Burke continued to speak above him. “Let me do my job here please, your daughter is asking,” he said.
“I don’t understand why it’s taking so long. Why is it taking so long to bring this man in? asked Mrs. Burke.
“I would echo my mother’s words,” Ammi Burke said.
“My duty is either to reject the claim or find it unfair,” Mr Baneham said. “If I find it unfair, I will seek redress,” he said.
Ms Burke’s mother was “not allowed to speak at the hearing”, Mr Ward said, as her daughter had indicated she was representing herself.
He said it was unacceptable for the adjudicating officer to be ‘reprimanded’ by Ms Burke.
Mr Ward said the Burke family went so far as to picket the law firm’s offices in the months after their daughter was fired.
“It has to stop and it has to be stopped,” he said. “It is up to the respondent to present whatever evidence they wish to present – it is the respondent’s right – to defend themselves as they see fit,” he said.
Mr Ward said Ms Burke’s refusal to pursue the case unless her applications were accepted was ‘irritable’ and that he objected to her family’s behavior – calling them a ‘travelling circus’.
“I object…How dare you call my mum and I a ‘traveling circus,'” Ms Burke said. “Ask him to remove that remark,” she added, calling it “highly defamatory.”
Mr Ward urged the arbitrator to reject Ms Burke’s application
Ms Burke said Mr Ward’s remark about the ‘traveling circus’ was ‘highly defamatory’.
“My family is held in very high regard in the local community of Castlebar, Co Mayo. My mother is a qualified teacher and has been teaching for over 30 years. It is the height of insult and a defamatory comment to speak the way Mr Ward did,” Ms Burke said.
Mr Baneham said if there was no sworn evidence allowing the defense to contradict the oral testimony Ms Burke would give later in the case, then he should prefer her account of events.
He declined to summon Mr Lynch and Ms D’Alton and said he would reserve his position on the emails.
However, the hearing did not focus on Mr Moore’s testimony as Ms Burke stuck to her position on the claim and her mother continued to protest.
Mr Baneham adjourned the hearing three times before taking a fourth extended break at lunchtime.
‘If I can’t continue, I’ll adjourn the hearing to let people consider their position,’ he said, telling Ms Burke: ‘I’m warning you now for the third time about this behavior.’
“I have a right to be here to support my daughter when she was treated in this despicable way,” Ms Burke replied.
Mr Moore returned to the witness chair after lunch, but Ms Burke’s protests continued and Mr Baneham gave her a fourth and a fifth warning. Ms Burke stuck to her stance on her candidacy and the hearing was adjourned twice again between 2pm and 3pm.
Ms Burke argued that Mr Baneham had a duty to do ‘just justice’ in calling Mr Lynch to give evidence.
“I am prevented from proceeding with the case,” the adjudicating officer said.
After a sixth suspension, Mr Baneham said Ms Burke’s behavior was ‘obstructive’.
Mr. Ward made a formal motion on behalf of Arthur Cox to have the application dismissed on the grounds that Arthur Cox was prevented from presenting his evidence.
Mr Baneham provided the parties with copies of the WRC’s procedures for arbitration hearings as well as two precedent decisions and invited them to study them during a further recess.
When he returned at 3 p.m., he said he was satisfied that the parties had been informed that the consequence of his inability to hear Mr. Moore’s testimony would be the end of the hearing and the end of the case and the complaint.
He said the established precedent was that the complaint could be closed if there was an impasse at the hearing, although the burden of proof was on the respondent.
“My case is, my position is that the emails and Mr. Lynch are central to the judgment of this case,” Ms. Burke said. “It’s wrong, we implore you all day,” she added.
“Criminal. Criminal,” his mother said.
“Mr. President, we cannot be expected to stay in the room,” Mr. Ward said.
“I gave you my position,” Mr Baneham said.
Addressing her mother, Ms Burke said: ‘He’s asking you to be quiet.
Mr Ward said it was clear Ms Burke’s side ‘will not allow the evidence to continue’ and repeated his plea for dismissal.
Ms Burke said there was a threat on her that her complaint would be ‘aborted, dismissed’ if she did not accept ‘your refusal to request the presence of Mr Lynch and Ms D’Alton’ and told him described as “flagrantly and manifestly”. unfair”.
Ms. Burke began to applaud his submission.
Mr Baneham said there was no threat.
“I’m sure everyone understands the significance of what happens if I can’t continue,” he said.
He said he would swear in Mr. Moore, the last respondent witness.
“If it doesn’t work, I’ll end this case,” he said. ‘This will end the involvement of the Workplace Relations Commission,’ Mr Baneham said.
Shortly before 4 p.m., Mr Baneham asked Mr Moore to take the affirmation, but Ms Burke started talking again.
“Mrs. Burke, please refrain,” Mr. Baneham said. “I’m calling Mr. Moore.”
Mrs. Burke continued to talk.
“Thank you, Mr Moore,” the umpire said before dismissing Arthur Cox’s managing partner.
‘I am officially ending this hearing on the terms I outlined this afternoon,’ Mr Baneham said.
He said he would provide the parties with a written version of his decision.