Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue has expressed concern about the way the State Services Commission has handled the allegation of sexual harassment against Roger Sutton.
Mr Sutton resigned from his position as chief executive of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) on Monday after a complaint of sexual harassment made by a senior staff member was upheld.
Dr Blue said she had contacted State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie and expressed her concerns and asked for an explanation from him.
In a letter addressed to Mr Rennie, Dr Blue said: "My concern for the woman in the current situation, where through no fault of her own details of the matter have become public, is that there is now widespread public debate about her complaint.
"I do not understand why the confidential complaint and mediation processes in the Employment Relations Act or Human Rights Act were not used."
Dr Blue said in a statement that there had been a confidential settlement and the full facts of the case were not in the public arena, but media statements made by various parties had put the case in the public domain without the voice of the complainant.
"The commission received 235 sexual harassment complaints over the past four years to June 2014: 87 per cent from women.
"I am already concerned that sexual harassment is under-reported and that publicity around this case could have a chilling effect on other alleged victims of sexual harassment speaking up," Dr Blue said.
"Sexual harassment is covered under the Human Rights Act. Anyone who feels they have been harassed can and should contact the Human Rights Commission and make a complaint. Mediation is free, confidential and generally very successful.
"New Zealand leaders and decision makers charged with the honour and responsibility of leading our government departments need to always be asking how they can do better when it comes to treating employees with respect and dignity. These are fundamental human rights."
Full text of Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue's letter to State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie:
Dear Iain Rennie
Handling of complaint of sexual harassment against Roger Sutton
I am writing to express my concern and to seek an explanation from you about the way in which the outcome of a complaint of sexual harassment against Roger Sutton is being handled.
I am concerned about the woman at the centre of this. I am also concerned about the chilling effect the current situation will have on anyone else in the public sector who is being sexually harassed and wants to make a complaint about that harassment.
My concern for the woman in the current situation, where through no fault of her own details of the matter have become public, is that there is now widespread public debate about her complaint.
The other main concern has to be about the chilling effect on future complaints arising from the current situation.
I simply do not understand why the confidential complaint and mediation processes in the Employment Relations Act or Human Rights Act were not used. These processes are designed to achieve confidential resolution of difficult matters like these to the satisfaction of both parties and in a way that preserves the human dignity of all involved.
In the Commission's processes these matters are handled in the strictest confidence by the Chief Mediator and members of her team. Commissioners and other people outside her team do not know anything about a complaint.
I would like to meet with you to understand why the approach that has been taken in this case and to explore how a similar situation could be handled differently in the future.
I will be making my concerns about this public.
Dr Jackie Blue
Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner
Kaihautu Oritenga Mahi