The former CEO of a Northland trust says a finding that she was unjustifiably dismissed was "vindication" after she was accused of serious misconduct.

In a highly critical decision, the Employment Relations Authority slammed Te Runanga o Whaingaroa for the way it handled the dismissal of CEO Melanie Catanuto in September last year.

ERA member Rachel Larmer found the runanga unjustifiably dismissed Ms Catanuto, and ordered that it pay her lost remuneration from September until the day of the decision and $12,000 in distress compensation.

The runanga board dismissed Mrs Catanuto after making 13 allegations of serious misconduct, and 22 allegations of misconduct overall, against her. But Ms Larmer said none of the allegations could be viewed by a fair and reasonable employer as amounting to serious misconduct, even if proven and the board fundamentally breached its statutory good faith and procedural fairness obligations.


She found the subcommittee investigating the allegations was influenced by board member Norm McKenzie and followed his recommendations on disciplinary action without understanding the information he had based his disciplinary concerns on.

Ms Catanuto told The Northern Advocate the ERA decision totally vindicated her after Mr McKenzie pushed allegations against her, as highlighted by Ms Larmer.

"I'm really happy with the decision. It's cost me more in legal fees than I've been awarded, but it wasn't about money," Ms Catanuto said.

"My integrity was questioned and my name has now been cleared.

"It's a shame this is going to cost the runanga members when it shouldn't have happened. I have to ask how one board member can do that and leave the others open to liability for it?"

The runanga now has a largely new board and new chairman.

Ms Larmer said in her decision that Ms Catanuto was never told about Mr McKenzie's considerable input into the disciplinary process.

"Mr McKenzie urged the board to start a disciplinary process, he drafted the disciplinary letter, he put forward the disciplinary process to be followed and he influenced the disciplinary subcommittee by giving his view that Ms Cantanuto's explanations [which he had not personally heard] were unsatisfactory."


Mr McKenzie declined to comment on the ERA ruling and its criticism of him.