Former Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Alistair Humphrey has appeared in the employment court in a bid to be immediately reinstated to his position.
He was let go in October last year after Canterbury District Health Board chief executive Peter Bramley concluded Humphrey's employment relationship with the health board was "irremediably untenable", resulting in an "irretrievable breakdown".
Humphrey has lodged a personal grievance against the CDHB and is asking to be immediately reinstated.
A reinstatement hearing was held in the Christchurch District Court today.
Humphrey's lawyer Carolyn Heaton argued the longer he was away from his position and no longer practising, the more difficult it would be for him to get back into the industry.
She also argued it was likely to permanently damage his career.
"This has been an incredibly bruising experience for the plaintiff [Humphrey], who has been criticised for speaking out."
Lawyer for the CDHB Andrew Shaw said the breakdown in Humphrey's relationship with the health board started because he was unwilling to accept he was "directly responsible" to his line manager, and his interpersonal relationships with his coworkers.
Despite the medical officer of health role being a statutory appointment by the Ministry of Health, it is still considered to be under the employ of the CHDB, which Shaw said was never accepted by Humphrey.
"This has been snowballing over 10 or 15 years and people came out and started saying enough is enough."
Heaton said Humphrey was not distrusting of his colleagues or unable to follow direction but was unhappy he was not being notified of problems as they arose.
Coworkers have described Humphrey as displaying "combative and belittling behaviour" and describe discussions at meetings as "strained and apprehensive".
Among complaints raised by staff was an interview with North & South magazine about the measles outbreak, Shaw said.
The article was published in November 2019 and Humphrey criticised fellow medical officer of health Dr Ramon Pink for his comments at a press conference where he did not mention a measles strain was linked to the Philippines.
Humphrey has since taken on a position as chair of the NZ Medical Association and as a general practitioner, which Shaw said showed his dismissal had not had an impact on his reputation.
Chief judge Christina Inglis has reserved her decision.
Humphrey had been employed by the CDHB since 2000 and was a Medical Officer of Health (MOH) for most of that time.
He has been the public face of many Canterbury health issues since he took up the position
A number of managers and clinicians wrote to the CDHB chief executive with allegations against him in November 2019, according to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA).
The CDHB commissioned an independent investigation and Humphrey sought special leave for two weeks in March last year.
When he requested to return to work in April, it was refused.
New Zealand was under a national lockdown because of Covid-19 from late March to mid-May last year and Humphrey was not allowed to return to the CDHB.
"The role of MOH is extremely important during a global pandemic," the ERA says.
It was not until October 14 that the CDHB's acting chief executive Dr Peter Bramley wrote to Humphrey confirming the decision to dismiss him.