Newfoundland woman at centre of Scottish workplace harassment scandal
By The Canadian Press
ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – A Newfoundland-born woman has sparked a major political scandal in Scotland, alleging she suffered a decade of harassment after complaining about a sexist, racist workplace culture at her civil service office.
A photo published by the BBC this week shows DeeAnn Fitzpatrick taped to a chair with tape over her mouth – an incident she claims was a response from two male co-workers at Marine Scotland’s office in Scrabster for “1/8speaking 3/8 out against the boys.”
Fitzpatrick’s case is currently before the Scottish Employment Tribunal, preventing her from speaking publicly about her experiences at work.
But her sister-in-law, Sherry Fitzpatrick, has taken the case to the media to draw attention to the incidents and hopefully put an end to the years of “torment.”
“We said, ‘This is not going to go on any longer. This is gonna end for you,”’ Sherry Fitzpatrick said in an interview Friday.
DeeAnn Fitzpatrick, a fisheries officer originally from Bell Island, N.L., claims co-workers mocked her for having a miscarriage, used racist language, and threatened female staff members.
The shocking photo was published this week after being anonymously submitted to BBC reporter Mark Daly. The image, and Fitzpatrick’s ongoing case tribunal case, has prompted outcry in the U.K.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was “absolutely horrified” by the photo, and said she is ordering a review of Fitzpatrick’s case.
“Bullying, abuse, sexism, racism, have no place in any workplace, and let me be very clear today, they will not be tolerated within the Scottish government and within our agencies,” Sturgeon told Scottish Parliament.
Rhoda Grant, a Labour member of the Scottish Parliament who has supported Fitzpatrick’s case, expressed frustration at the Scottish government’s response. Grant said she had previously asked Sturgeon to take action, and noted that Fitzpatrick’s case had been covered in Scottish media before the photo surfaced this week.
“For the best part of a decade, I have been dealing with DeeAnn’s case, fighting alongside her, and trying to get things moving forward but have had nothing but a brick wall from the Scottish government,” Grant said in an e-mailed statement. “It is a shame it took a shocking photo having to be revealed before they were willing to listen and take action.”
Grant also requested that the first minister lift rules preventing Fitzpatrick from speaking publicly, saying “it is in the public interest that her story is heard.”
Sherry Fitzpatrick said the photo was taken in 2010, after her sister-in-law complained to her union, saying she witnessed a misogynistic incident directed at a female colleague.
The two men allegedly taped Fitzpatrick to the chair and put tape over her mouth to send a message about further complaints.
According to the BBC, her manager said he would have a word with both men, saying “I am sure they meant no harm and that was the boys just being boys.”
Her sister-in-law said after this incident, Fitzpatrick “always had to explain herself for everything.”
Sherry Fitzpatrick said she was with her sister-in-law at her ailing father’s bedside in 2016 when she received an email from her employer, saying if she did not explain her absence she would face disciplinary action. The BBC’s report said the correspondence showed Fitzpatrick informed her employer of her absence and family emergency.
Fitzpatrick has not returned to work since her father’s death. Her sister-in-law said the “turmoil from work,” her mother’s death in 2015, and her father’s death a year later took a heavy toll. Her family says Fitzpatrick has trouble sleeping, rarely leaves home, and has lost most of her hair as a result of the stress.
Fitzpatrick is also facing a disciplinary hearing from her employers, following complaints that she was “overzealous” in her job duties and rude to a client.
Sherry Fitzpatrick said the family is remaining cautious as the probe ordered by Sturgeon is underway. But the family is feeling some relief now that the case has received attention from the government.
Sherry hopes that as a bare minimum, Fitzpatrick will receive some sort of public apology. She said her sister-in-law “just wants her dignity back.”
“DeeAnn loved being a fisheries officer, she loved her job. It’s just the ignorant people she worked with that made it difficult for her,” Sherry said. “It’s not everyone in Marine Scotland who treated her that way. But there are a lot of people who were aware and did nothing.”