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Man fired over ‘inappropriate’ emails must be reinstated

High Court hears of widespread sending of such messages in Bank of Ireland

A Bank of Ireland sales manager with an “exemplary record” who was dismissed for “gross misconduct” over “inappropriate” and pornographic emails sent from his personal bank email has won a six year battle for his reinstatement.  Photograph: Chris Maddaloni/Collins.

A Bank of Ireland sales manager with an “exemplary record” who was dismissed for “gross misconduct” over “inappropriate” and pornographic emails sent from his personal bank email has won a six-year battle for his reinstatement.

The dismissal of James Reilly (33), who gave unchallenged evidence that the exchange of such emails was widespread within the bank and throughout public companies, had “a catastrophic effect” on his life and career, Mr Justice Seamus Noonan said.

The bank acted disproportionately and unreasonably towards its employee and its “hierarchy” set out make an example of him, he said. It was relevant that the email considered the most serious originated in the bank’s head office and was sent on by an official who was later promoted. No steps were taken to investigate the other employees involved and the bank seemingly went to considerable lengths to conceal the provenance of that email, he said.

The long, complex and hugely expensive process Mr Reilly endured before achieving reinstatement was “oppressive to say the least” and “calls into question” Ireland’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights concernign access to justice, the judge also observed.

That process, involving an initial investigation, a two stage disciplary process, two internal appeals and hearings before the Employment Appeals Tribunal, Circuit Court and High Court, meant Mr Reilly had given evidence on eight different occasions over six years, incurring enormous costs he could ill afford.

The courts previously criticised this process and it was “well past time” the matter was addressed, the judge urged.

He was giving a judgment dismissing the bank’s appeal against a Circuit Court order awarding Mr Reilly compensation of half a year’s salary after upholding a finding by the Employment Appeals Tribunal he was unfairly dismissed. Circuit Court Judge Gerard Griffin did not award the full salary amount because of his view Mr Reilly contributed to his own downfall.

Mr Reilly, Edgewood Lawn, Blanchardstown, who joined BofI in 2001, accepted before the Circuit Court he had forwarded pornographic, rude, racist and sexixt emails he received from other bank employees and said he did so to mask his homosexuality.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Noonan noted Mr Reilly’s dismissal from the bank’s Main Street branch in Blanchardstown came when Ireland was experiencing an economic catastrophe “brought about in no small measure by the activitites of our banks”.

Despite uncontradicted evidence of a widespread practice within the bank of sending inappropriate emails, the bank hierarchy decided early in 2009 to “make an example” of Mr Reilly to deter others from similar behaviour, the judge found.

While “lip service” was paid to observance of procedures, it was “clear there was only going to be one outcome”. The manner in which the bank predetermined this matter and “manipulated” the entire process from the outset reflected little credit on it and visited a “very grave injustice” on Mr Reilly.

The “only appropriate remedy” was reinstatement, the judge told Roughan Banim SC, with Johanna Ronan–Mehigan BL, for Mr Reilly.

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