Official demands to know why private channels not used

The watchdog for workplace harassment has voiced her concerns about the investigation into Roger Sutton, who will no longer be returning to his former role as Cera chief executive.

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue has contacted State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie to ask for answers about the seven-week inquiry into Mr Sutton, who announced his resignation on Monday after a complaint of sexual harassment against him, laid by a senior female staff member at the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera), was upheld.

Mr Sutton had intended on working until January 31, but yesterday it was announced he is on gardening leave, replaced by John Ombler, who will be acting chief executive.

In a letter to Mr Rennie, Dr Blue said: "My concern for the woman in the current situation ... 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."

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THE HERALD'S VIEW: Other side of Sutton affair needs airing

On One News last night she added: "I've been very concerned that what's supposedly a confidential agreement has become public and the CEO has had the opportunity to speak publicly about it.

"Those comments seem to minimise and sideline this very serious issue. It's become very public. We've heard one side of the story."

At a press conference this week, Mr Sutton referenced hugging, joking and calling women "honey" and "sweetie".

Mr Rennie last night said he was "deeply disappointed" by the breaches of confidentiality. His primary concern was protecting the privacy of the complainant. " ... the complainant has held her dignity and kept confidentiality under incredibly difficult circumstances. I want to thank her for that," Mr Rennie said.

Radio New Zealand reported that State Services Minister Paula Bennett had confidence Mr Rennie and had received assurances from him that the investigation into Mr Sutton had been thorough.

She said she would not be commenting further on the matter.

Mr Sutton last night refused to discuss specific allegations.

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WATCH: John Key on Sutton's alleged remark about his wife

"We don't want to comment on anything," his wife Jo Malcolm said. "If it's anything to do with the investigation, you need to talk to Iain Rennie."

She denied her husband had been put on gardening leave after being told not to return to the Cera offices.

"He is on leave with his family and then he will be assisting with the transition period and the handover to John Ombler."

A source close to the parties said it would likely have been unworkable for Mr Sutton to return to the Cera offices.

Mr Sutton rejected claims he had made a sexual comment about Prime Minister John Key's wife Bronagh at a public event in Christchurch. Mr Key said he had been reassured by Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet head Andrew Kibblewhite, who was apparently in earshot of Mr Sutton, that no inappropriate comment had been made.

New Labour leader Andrew Little said Mr Sutton should not be given a golden handshake. He said the State Services Commissioner had handled the aftermath of its inquiry into the allegations poorly.

WATCH: Little says Sutton 'should not get golden handshake'

New Labour leader Andrew Little says departing CERA boss Roger Sutton should not be given a golden handshake.“What I’m concerned about … is that the SSC conducts an investigation, requires … victims to maintain confidentiality, and allows a chief executive to walk away from their job. “It doesn’t look like holding him to account in a way that I would expect the public service to do.”

State Services Minister Paula Bennett said she had confidence in Mr Rennie, and had been assured the investigation was thorough.

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.

Yours Sincerely

Dr Jackie Blue

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner

Kaihautu Oritenga Mahi
- additional reporting Isaac Davison