It is a harrowing image that sickened many when it went viral on the internet more than three years ago – one of a woman gagged and bound tightly with parcel tape to an office chair, apparently at the hands of male colleagues intent on ‘teaching her a lesson’.
The humiliating incident that could have occurred in a Scottish Government division, a body that prides itself as a champion for workplace equality, added to the shock. MSPs demanded answers, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon promised a thorough investigation.
Now the latest chapter in the row – dubbed Chairgate – will see the woman pictured tied to the chair, DeeAnn Fitzpatrick, a fisheries officer who loved her job but was sacked last year for persistently calling out her bosses on misogyny and racism, go head-to-head this week with the Government at an employment tribunal.
Marine Scotland terminated her after a probe into her chair accident. They found no evidence to support her claim.
There are strict restrictions on what evidence Ms Fitzpatrick (originally from Canada) can present to support her claim for wrongful dismissal. The Government’s legal team has opposed the submission of several key documents including the damning diary that her union rep ordered her to keep after she raised concerns about workplace bullying.
Its entries list examples of her being frequently called a ‘f****** r****d’, a ‘f****** foreign Canadian b***h’ and snide remarks following a miscarriage and the length of time she was off work as a result.
Now the latest chapter in the row – dubbed Chairgate – will see the woman pictured tied to the chair, DeeAnn Fitzpatrick (pictured), a fisheries officer who loved her job but was sacked last year for persistently calling out her bosses on misogyny and racism, go head-to-head this week with the Government at an employment tribunal
After Marine Scotland’s own investigation into the chair incident concluded that the men in question ‘had not case to answer,’ she is now seeking her reinstatement. She dismissed her because of gross misconduct. They found that she had been a willing participant and only used the “high jinks” fun to make her male coworkers uncomfortable.
She spoke for the first-time last night ahead of the showdown.
“I lost everything. Even my name. I was able to keep the job that I loved.
‘But I want to stand up for myself and every other human being who has ever been spat on, called a w***e, told to go f*** themselves, knocked in the head, had their glasses knocked off their face, racially abused, mocked for having a miscarriage, taken advantage of when their mental health is suffering and physically assaulted when they speak out in their place of work.’
Ms. Fitzpatrick wanted to make several people testify before the tribunal.
However, at the preliminary hearings held last month, both the employment judge and another asking to summon Ms Sturgeon was denied.
Holyrood’s March 2019 First Minister said that the image had made him ‘absolutely terrified’. He added that bullying, abuse, and racism were not appropriate in any workplace, and would be resisted by our Government agencies.
Ms. Fitzpatrick worked for the agency for over 11 years. She claims that bullying started after she returned to work from a miscarriage.
“It was just a box-ticking exercise for me. They are hiding something.
“Eventually, I was sent an extremely redacted version that contained only a handful of lines.
“Not even MSPs had seen it. But apparently, the First Minister has. So I requested that she tell me in person what this inquiry had revealed.
She was allowed to go ahead with the claim that she was dismissed for making protected disclosures pursuant to whistleblowing guidelines. However, she is limited in her ability to base her arguments only on two emails.
This is the site that Ms. Fitzpatrick was bound and gagged while she worked for the Scottish government.
One includes information on the assault of another female coworker in the workplace, and the other about the chair incident which occurred in Caithness’ Scrabster office.
However, she hopes that a report from a digital forensics expert will clear her name.
According to the report, Marine Scotland is doubtful of her findings about the image. The image was eventually stored on a federal computer. This would mean it would not be easy for Marine Scotland to lie about time or date.
Marine Scotland objected to her request to provide her diary and said that it was older than the main events she can discuss at her tribunal. She should therefore disallow her request.
Ms. Fitzpatrick stated that it was a sad reality to be where we are now. You have a list of 35 accusations of bullying, racism and sexual harassment that you need to report to the human resource department. The only thing to do is to make the victim subject to corporate harassment. This is a clear indication that something is wrong.
Rhoda Grant (Labour MSP), first brought the matter to Holyrood’s notice after she was made aware by another Marine Scotland staff member about Ms Fitzpatrick’s troubles. She said that it was one of the worst cases of bullying and misogyny that she had ever witnessed.
“I spoke to Marine Scotland staff members who were also shocked by DeeAnn’s treatment, and saw it in person. I’ve taken her case to every possible place, even the First Minister.
“But it feels like all of Government conspired for her to ruin her reputation.”
DeeAnn Fitzpatrick (pictured), claims that she contemplated suicide after enduring a decade-long period of bullying from Marine Scotland’s Scrabster Office.
“Last week, I heard Nicola Sturgeon encourage whistleblowers contact her. I instantly thought of DeeAnn.
“I pray that nobody whistleblower takes her in their hands, she has totally failed DeeAnn. DeeAnn has demonstrated incredible resilience in the face unbelievable pressures and should be given an impartial hearing.
“We have to ensure that DeeAnn is never again subject to the same pain and suffering.”
Sources from the Public and Commercial Services Union added that it was alarming that the Government had never investigated properly what was happening in Scrabster’s office.
“It has instead been unfairly focused on the one who is trying to make these terrible allegations right.
“I hope this employment tribunal provides DeeAnn, despite its limitations in scope, with an avenue for her to have significant concerns fair and objectively addressed.”
According to a spokesperson for the Scottish Government, harassment and abuse in any form are completely unacceptable. The Scottish Government will not tolerate them.