The settlement may be signed, but the war isn’t over for outgoing Critic Editor Callum Fredric.
Fredric reached an out-of-court settlement with Otago University Students’ Association (OUSA) just over a week ago, giving up his determined bid to be reinstated to the role following suspension early this month.
However despite the settlement, Fredric has continued to be involved with student media. In the days following the agreement, Fredric informed Salient that the coverage of the issue was defamatory, and last Thursday issued Critic with a letter from his lawyer warning against their “intended publication of defamatory statements”.
As reported earlier in Salient, Fredric was placed on interim suspension early this month pending investigation, and later filed a claim with the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) challenging the suspension by OUSA General Manager Darel Hall. A hearing was set down for Monday 20 May, but was cancelled due to the settlement.
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Under the terms of the agreement the sum of the settlement is confidential, and when spoken to by Salient, Fredric refused to confirm any figures. However, sources close to the organisation have said that the settlement was around $35,000, which is slightly less than a year’s salary for the Critic Editor. An employment-relations-disputes specialist spoken to by Salient said that this figure was significantly higher than an average settlement sum.
In a meeting with Hall on Friday 3 May, Fredric was informed that he would be suspended “on an interim basis” until the following Tuesday, when Hall would make a final decision as to whether Fredric would remain suspended while Hall investigated complaints from five members of both Critic and OUSA staff. Hall also instructed Fredric not to speak to Critic staff nor to return to the premises without express permission. In a letter given to Fredric at the meeting, Hall cited potential health-and-safety issues to staff due to long hours of work and risks to Critic’s business relations, along with concerns about frequent lateness to and absence from the office.
Fredric challenged the suspension on the basis that it was unlawful and completely unjustified, as he was not given any prior warning or opportunity to comment, and that the complaints raised should have been dealt with in a performance-management, rather than disciplinary, process.
In the affidavit filed in support of his ERA claim, Fredric rejected Hall’s suggestion that the allegations were serious enough to give rise to suspension. Fredric said that staff health and safety and business relations would not be affected by his return to work. In response to the allegations about his hours of work, Fredric wrote that flexible working hours had been common for many years at Critic, and although he may not always be present in the office, he continued to work an average of 60 hours every week. If reinstated, Fredric offered to “cooperate fully with the process of dealing with complaints”, and work under any reasonable conditions placed on him.
When contacted by Salient last week for further comment on the allegations outlined in the complaints, Fredric said that he would not “respond to documents that have been leaked to the media”.
“I’ve provided a comprehensive response to OUSA refuting the allegations… After I gave my response OUSA and I reached a satisfactory settlement. I’m not going to say anything further.”
The employment issue became public knowledge after police were called to the Critic offices on Monday 6 May, when Fredric refused to leave after being issued with a Trespass Notice by a Campus Watch guard. Fredric was attempting to attend a staff meeting at the Critic offices in order to explain the situation to staff, and ensure that his reputation wasn’t damaged.
Acting Editor Sam McChesney oversaw the production of the last issue of the semester last week. Applications for the role are open until Wednesday 29 May.