An adult literacy group has been torn apart by internal squabbles including highly colourful language about nuts and seaweed.
The fallout has led to one disgruntled language tutor, who said his bosses "collectively generated less neural power than a pickled walnut", winning compensation after he resigned with hurt feelings.
Tutor Patrick O'Sullivan won his case with the Employment Relations Authority, which found his bosses failed to act in good faith.
O'Sullivan and fellow tutor Karen Pivott both served on the Southern Adult Literacy Inc committee that employed them.
ERA member David Appleton heard of long-running dramas at a workplace where everything from a stapler and keys to filing cabinets and email access caused disputes.
Problems started in 2008 but a chain of events, including last year's Christchurch earthquake and an Employment Court case, delayed last month's ERA hearing in Invercargill.
Pivott recalled a bizarre incident when her cellphone went missing but turned up four days later in the handle of the front door of her home. A perceived conflict of interest led to Pivott standing down as chair.
Meanwhile, disputes over the scope of O'Sullivan's role caused him to stand down from the commitee as well.
As his employment relationship unravelled, O'Sullivan expressed himself in colourful language, which the ERA said alienated his bosses. In a letter, O'Sullivan described one colleague as "so much weed around the keel" and made the walnut comment. O'Sullivan also referred to the committee as "subverted cronies".
Appleton said O'Sullivan's style "blinded" his employers. "While Mr O'Sullivan characterises the manner as scornful, it was also often extremely forceful, haranguing and belittling."
The ERA heard from another witness who said O'Sullivan's writing left two women in tears.
Although the ERA also heard O'Sullivan was referred to as a "gnome" in an email, Appleton reduced O'Sullivan's award.
"He states that he was provoked to scorn and acerbity by the respondent's actions, but that reaction does not ... justify the award of $10,000." Instead, $5000 was awarded, cut in half again because of O'Sullivan's "alienating" style.
O'Sullivan and Pivott could not be reached for comment. SAL and its advocate Mary-Jane Thomas said she understood O'Sullivan might appeal some aspect of the determination. Pivott was awarded $7500.