Dismissal for Incompatibility

Terris v Parliamentary Servive : Former "nutso bright" right wing Upper Hutt Mayor John Terris has just been ruled incompatable with former National MP Paul Quinn, Mr Quinn, himself in the news last month for lashing out at a fellow customer in a bank last week in Wellington after the man called him a "dickhead" in a dispute over a parking space, has not yet responded to a request for an interview.

The court found that the behaviour of the employee had totally destroyed the relationship of trust and confidence between the employee and the employer, and justified the dismissal. After his election as a list MP in 2008, Paul Quinn was given responsibility for representing the National Party as its designated MP for the Hutt Valley. As Mr Quinn was based in Wellington city he thought it prudent to hire someone with knowledge of the Hutt Valley. John Terris had helped Mr Quinn prior to the election and as a former Mayor and MP for Lower Hutt, had many contacts in the Hutt Valley. Mr Terris was offered employment through Parliamentary Services as Mr Quinn’s out of Parliament support staff member. This created what is known as a "triangular" employment relationship, because Mr Terris worked directly for Mr Quinn, yet was actually employed by Parliamentary Services. The employment agreement contained a clause that permitted Parliamentary Services to terminate the employment of Mr Terris if the General Manager of Parliamentary Services considered that an irreconcilable breakdown had occurred.
Mr Terris made it clear upon taking this role that he wished to continue with his community and political activities. However, Mr Quinn wanted him to tone them down, and in many areas he did so. Mr Quinn remained especially concerned about Mr Terris’ involvement in the Hutt Mana Charitable Trust (‘the Trust’) and the complaint Mr Terris had made to the Crown Law Office about the other trustees.
Parliamentary Services wrote to Mr Terris in December 2009 stating in relation to the Trust that "there exists a potential for confusion that your actions may be linked to Paul Quinn
MP and therefore generate a perceived conflict of interest and potential embarrassment for the member"
. Parliamentary Services requested that Mr Terris not make any media statements in relation to the Crown Law complaint. Mr Terris agreed but then stated he would still issue a press statement recording his criticisms of the Trust.
Mr Terris then made comments about the Trust (although not in relation to the Crown Law investigation). Some of these comments were published in the Hutt News.
The Hutt News then published a report on the annual meeting of the Trust in February 2010, quoting Mr Terris as saying that he had been the subject of threats of violence and legal retribution and that
"There have been attempts to gag me via pressure on my employer [Mr Terris now assists National List MP Paul Quinn]."
This upset Mr Quinn as he felt he had been dragged into the problems of the Trust and that he was being associated with attempts to "gag" Mr Terris.
Several meetings were then held between Parliamentary Services, Mr Quinn, and Mr Terris. Mr Quinn stated that there were ongoing potential conflicts of interest, and alleged that Mr Terris had continuously demonstrated a lack of awareness and that the relationship had broken down. Mr Terris believed that the relationship was salvageable. On 31 May 2010 Mr Thorn, General Manager of Parliamentary Services, wrote to Mr Terris and advised him that there was an irreconcilable breakdown in the relationship as both parties could no longer work together and so the relationship was being terminated in accordance with the irreconcilable differences clause of the employment agreement.

The Employment Relations Authority found that Mr Terris had been justifiably dismissed. Mr Terris was working in a highly political environment, where he had to take into account the needs of his employer (Parliamentary Services), and those of its client (Mr Quinn) and both had to be satisfied with his performance. Mr Terris should have been aware that his own political activities would impact negatively on Mr Quinn.
The Authority found that the employment relationship broke down due to Mr Terris’ political activities and statements. While Mr Terris may not have believed this to be the case, Mr Quinn did and the Authority stated that a relationship is irreconcilable if one party considers it so. The Authority found that Mr Terris’ actions at the Trust’s meeting were clearly designed to embarrass Parliamentary Services and/or Mr Quinn and destroyed any prospect of the relationship being repaired. Mr Terris’ employment was therefore justifiably terminated.