A wrongfully dismissed aviation security officer has been awarded more than $20,000 after a lengthy employment dispute stemming from a female colleague taking a nude photo on his iPad.
Security service Avsec which is operated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), employed Richard Nolan at Queenstown Airport from May 2016 until his dismissal in March because of "a severe and irresolvable incompatibility" between him and a female colleague.
Now he has been awarded $20,321.56 in compensation and costs by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA), a decision from Friday reads.
The saga began in May last year when a female colleague used Nolan's unattended personal iPad to take a photo of a second colleague holding up a device displaying an image of her naked breasts.
While the photos were deleted they remained accessible in the deleted items folder and Nolan discovered the images when he was at work the next day.
An investigation ensued and the second woman admitted her involvement and offered Nolan an apology but did so while saying "great set of tits". The other woman also offered an apology when she returned to work a couple of days later.
However, workplace tension was brewing between Nolan and his flashing workmate, whose name was redacted by the ERA judgment.
Not long after the incident, Nolan was discussing his jetski with several colleagues and was overheard by the woman who quipped if you could fit "two abreast" on the jetski.
Nolan said he initially "laughed this comment off" but realised the apology for the nude photos was not genuine and decided to make a formal complaint.
To complicate matters, Nolan's iPad was connected to his family's devices at home, which led the image of his colleague's breasts being shared with his 13-year-old son.
The tension between Nolan and the woman, who was subject to a disciplinary process and given a final written warning, continued when they were on duty together.
One incident included the woman claiming Nolan had deliberately sent her in the wrong direction to return a personal item to a passenger, while another saw Nolan alleging his colleague stood behind him "in an aggressive stance as if to intimidate me and make me aware of her presence" while he checked his emails.
Management considered the possibility of separating the two workmates but there were differing views. Some thought moving the woman would send a signal that bad behaviour might be rewarded by a transfer, while others thought shifting Nolan might be seen as punishing the victim.
Arrangements were made so Nolan and his colleague were not working on the same duties at the same time, to minimise their contact and interaction.
However, the incident led to Nolan going on "stress leave" and except for a short period he was off work until his dismissal.
Mediation between the pair didn't work out and Nolan lodged his grievance with the ERA in November.
In February, Karen Urwin, Avsec's group manager of operations, wrote to Nolan seeking a meeting to discuss "a proposal to terminate your employment on the basis of severe and irresolvable incompatibility".
In response, Nolan said he was surprised and disappointed to read the suggestion and offered to return if his colleague was transferred to another team.
Urwin again wrote to Nolan in a March email which reads: "You state you are willing to complete private mediation with [her] however you are doing so to appease Avsec and not because you wish to work towards a better working relationship."
She further accused Nolan of spreading rumours with other workmates about the woman.
"I question the motivation behind these discussions and it indicates that you may not be operating in a professional manner or in good faith," Urwin wrote.
"Your commitment to resolving this manner has been minimal in the past few months and your enthusiasm this week appears somewhat insincere... It appears the employment relationship remains incompatible and unable to be reconciled."
In reply, Nolan refuted the allegations and said he would be professional in all his dealings with his female colleague.
Any hope of an amicable resolution then appeared to be dashed at a March meeting involving Nolan, Urwin and others, and Nolan's representative David Balfour who described the woman as a "sex offender", a "creature" and "a full-frontal flasher".
He also accused Avsec of covering up a crime and said if Nolan had "flashed his balls on her screen" he would've been fired.
Because of the heated interaction, an independent lawyer was instructed to provide Avsec with submissions on behalf of Nolan which said a dismissal for the reasons set out in Urwin's letter would almost certainly be unjustified.
Despite this, just two days later, Urwin terminated Nolan's employment, citing "a severe and irresolvable incompatibility between you and [the woman]".
In the ERA's decision on the dispute, member Philip Cheyne ruled Avsec did not carry out the dismissal in a procedurally fair manner.
"I find that Avsec's actions and how it acted were not what a fair and reasonable employer could have done in all the circumstances at the time."
Nolan also claimed reinstatement to his job but Cheyne found it "neither practicable nor reasonable".
The ERA awarded Nolan $14,000 in compensation and $6321.56 in costs.
The CAA did not wish to comment on the ruling.