Climate scientist oblivious to media policy before sacking
7:43PM Monday Oct 19, 2009
Sacked climate scientist Jim Salinger. Photo / NZPA
Sacked climate scientist Jim Salinger said he'd never seen his employer's policy on media statements until disciplinary action was started against him.
Dr Salinger is seeking compensation through the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) after claiming he was unjustifiably dismissed by his former employer, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa).
He was dismissed for allegedly ignoring a Niwa policy against speaking publicly without prior approval.
Dr Salinger accepted when giving evidence to ERA member Leon Robinson that his letter of dismissal indicated that "repeated instances of unauthorised contact with the media" was his reason for dismissal.
But he said when referred to the company's policies on media comment that he had not seen the document prior to early this year.
"The first I saw of this document was during the disciplinary process in March this year," Dr Salinger said.
He said the document was directed at regional managers and had not been handed to him, though he knew there was a media discussion policy.
Dr Salinger said he did not raise the fact he hadn't seen the document during the disciplinary process as it was the first time he'd been in such a situation and he was feeling under pressure.
He told Mr Robinson he was aware there were media policies.
He said he had been making comments to media for 20 years and was unhappy at being "reined in" when other Niwa scientists with similar experience to him did not appear to have to seek approval from senior staff when speaking to media.
Dr Salinger said he was also unhappy at the change to an open plan office a few years ago, and that there were directions from management not to put up any maps or pictures around his new work space.
Earlier, therapist Dr Rui Mendel spoke of how Dr Salinger had suffered from depression in the early part of the decade but had it under control after taking medication.
Dr Mendel said he thought Dr Salinger was the victim of bullying by Niwa management, particularly over the new media policy and the open space office.
He agreed with Niwa's lawyer Peter Churchman that Niwa had the right to set media policies, but he thought changes in enforcement which impacted on Dr Salinger were not handled well.
Dr Mendel also said Dr Salinger was speaking in a personal capacity only when he once contacted TVNZ weatherman Jim Hickey about heavy rain on the West Coast.
Niwa said the river had not passed the level where it was officially in flood, and Dr Salinger did not have the authority to call Mr Hickey on Niwa's behalf.
"Dr Salinger spoke at a personal level, he wasn't working at that stage," Dr Mendel said.
"He spoke to someone who is a friend."
Asked by Mr Churchman if he was aware Mr Hickey told viewers he had been told of flooding on the West Coast "by Jim Salinger of Niwa", Dr Mendel said it was Mr Hickey that made the link and not Dr Salinger.
Dr Salinger is not seeking his job back but does want compensation for lost income up to 2012, along with $104,000 lost superannuation money and $50,000 in compensation for humiliation and loss of dignity.
The hearing is expected to take a week.