Thursday, 28 May 2009

Shake the city

After Salvatore started work for the University in its School of Computing and IT (SCIT) on 1st September 2004, I was on the University campus on that and almost every subsequent day on which Salvatore attended work. We discussed the difficulties he encountered at work regularly and I accompanied Salvatore to various meetings with the University.

When Salvatore was appointed to work for the University, I was very pleased because the advert had said they were looking for somebody with an academic focus in Human Computer Interaction and this was his area of research. Salvatore applied because they were requesting HCI expertise and his qualifications exceeded the requirements of the post.

Salvatore was in good health and enthusiastic when he started work for the University.

From September 2004 onwards Salvatore confided to me of various incidents I would describe as bullying. I started to notice Salvatore was tired and irritable after work quite early on in his employment. He would usually work until quite late at night and on the weekends on his research, his postgraduate studies and on developing ideas for improving the curriculum, in addition to preparing his teaching. He was enjoying his research and only became stressed as a result of the actions of the University. He was clearly keen to try to make the job work out.
From about October or November 2004 until Salvatore had to stop work due to ill health in October 2006, I heard recordings of several meetings between Salvatore and the University. I heard these because, after Salvatore made clear to me that he was feeling bullied within the University’s School of Computing and IT, I asked to hear the recordings he took of his meetings. I understood that he did so to assist in remembering what had been said and provide a possibility to reflect on the meetings afterwards (instead of taking notes). These tape recordings subsequently became helpful because I could hear them and understand what was happening at his work and try to help by discussing the problems.

The first recordings I heard were of two meetings in October or November 2004 between Salvatore and his line manager, Peter Musgrove. Salvatore raised a grievance about the behaviour of Alison Bunce. Peter Musgrove told Salvatore that he was not going to do anything about the incident with Alison Bunce and that “Alison has problems which are nothing to do with you” or words to that effect. He instructed Salvatore to “forget about it”.

They also discussed Salvatore’s staff development funding for research and that Salvatore was paying his own PhD fees. Peter Musgrove said there was about £2000 a year available for Salvatore. When Salvatore attempted to discuss his ideas for curriculum development, Peter Musgrove indicated that it did not interest him and Salvatore should talk to Helen Ashdown.

I heard a series of recordings of ‘probation meetings’, which took place between December 2004 and July 2005, between Salvatore and Helen Ashdown. I clearly recall from these meetings that Salvatore raised complaints about the unprofessional conduct of colleagues he had experienced during the initial months of his employment, breaches of procedures including his probation by the University and failures by the University to address his complaints. He put forward many ideas for curriculum development but was persistently told he could not participate in curriculum development at that time.

I heard Helen Ashdown make intimidating comments during the meetings including ‘nobody likes to work with you’ and threatening that there were not likely to be enough hours to timetable Salvatore to.
At no time did I see or hear anything to suggest that the grievances Salvatore had raised had been investigated or resolved. In the meetings I heard, Salvatore was consistently and without investigation, blamed by Helen Ashdown for every complaint he raised.

In early 2005, I heard on recording, Jennifer Davies, who was Salvatore’s Postgraduate Studies mentor, subject Salvatore to a series of insults and acts of harassment, saying that Salvatore should ‘lose’ his ‘thick Italian accent’ and accusing him of ‘flirting with’ and ‘hectoring’ students amongst other things.
On 20 April 2005 or thereabouts, I accompanied Salvatore to meet with Neil Gordon, Personnel Services Manager for the University. We asked for advice about how to complain formally about Jenny Davies. Neil Gordon said that he would not advise, but would only tell Salvatore which policy was applicable. At the same meeting, Salvatore made Neil Gordon aware of the irregularities in the conduct of his probation by the University. Salvatore also raised an additional complaint regarding Peter Musgrove who had refused to replace the chair assigned to Salvatore for use in his office since the start of his employment, which was broken and unusable. Neil Gordon did not take note of these grievances and refused to advise or help him.
These grievances were again raised in a meeting between Salvatore and Robert Moreton at around the same time, of which I heard a recording. Robert Moreton sounded as though he did not want to accept Salvatore’s complaints and sounded annoyed that Salvatore was bringing them forward. They discussed the misconduct of the probation process by Helen Ashdown and Salvatore agreed to complete the forms although the probation procedures had been breached, so that his complaints could be recorded formally and addressed. Robert Moreton promised to investigate all his complaints. Robert Moreton said he regarded the conduct of the colleagues Salvatore complained about to be ‘unprofessional’ and later sent an email with an attachment, which I saw, stating this.

On 15 July 2005, I heard a recording of another meeting between Salvatore and Robert Moreton. Salvatore again pointed out his unresolved complaints, referring to a bullying culture in the department and Robert Moreton promised to investigate, citing specifically a complaint against a colleague, Tony Mansfield. He said he needed to adjourn the meeting for this purpose and promised it would resume in a couple of days, but this never happened.

On 12 September 2005, I accompanied Salvatore to see Roger Williams, Head of Personnel for the University, for Salvatore to denounce a breach of contract as a result of the way his probation had been mismanaged by the University.

On 13 September 2005, I accompanied Salvatore to a pre-scheduled meeting with Robert Moreton and Neil Gordon. It was established during this and a subsequent meeting that Salvatore’s probation had been successfully concluded on his part and that there had been a breach of contract arising from the mismanagement of the probation by the University.

During the meeting on 13 September, Salvatore complained of harassment by Robert Moreton saying he had used the phrase ‘bloody Italians’ during a public speech he had made in September 2004, after Salvatore had introduced himself as a new member of staff. Robert Moreton admitted to this but laughed, which made me feel angry and sick. Personnel Manager Neil Gordon did not do anything when the issue was raised and did not offer Salvatore any advice or assistance.

Salvatore met with Peter Musgrove on 11 October 2005 or thereabouts. I heard a recording of this meeting, which was very informal. Peter Musgrove talked about some problems experienced by other staff in the past and suggested that Salvatore should ignore breaches of procedures in the department. There were no targets set for Salvatore about research or otherwise and Peter Musgrove did not suggest during this meeting that there was any issue with Salvatore’s performance, including his ability to follow procedures.

At around this time, I accompanied Salvatore to the Personnel department. He informed Personnel that appraisal was not being carried out within the SCIT department. While Personnel confirmed that appraisal was mandatory for all staff, they did not record the grievance.

On 10 November 2005, Salvatore was unwell and couldn’t go to work. The day before, I had been at the University while Salvatore had given an extra workshop for students for a module called CP1045 at 2pm and he commented afterwards that the students were ready to submit their coursework the following day.

On the morning of 10 November the University was informed of Salvatore’s ill health. The same morning I took a phone call from Stuart Slater, a colleague of Salvatore who would teach the class in his absence. I took a contact number and when Salvatore was feeling well enough, he returned the call. Stuart Slater asked what he was supposed to teach. He seemed concerned because he had not attended previous classes or meetings and was consequently ignorant of the module contents. Salvatore told him the students were ready to submit their assignments. Stuart Slater promised to publish the slides of his class on ‘WOLF’ (the university online learning environment). He seemed content at the end of the phone call and did not at any time suggest that there was any problem in understanding the assessment.
On or around Friday 11 November 2005 I heard a recording of a meeting between Salvatore and Peter Musgrove. Salvatore explained that he felt that the granting of an extension by Peter Musgrove to the students on CP1045 for the coursework due on 10 November, was an act of bullying and a direct breach of the university procedures.

He said the extension was unfair to both him and the students. Peter Musgrove was clear that he had been approached by Jas Singh and Stuart Slater and had granted the extension, but that this was an “error of judgment”. Peter Musgrove nonetheless refused to withdraw the decision, apologise or even admit his error to the students and others involved, saying he was interested only in keeping the students happy.

On 14 November 2005 or thereabouts, I heard a recording of a meeting between Salvatore and Kamal Bechkoum discussing the formal grievance entered by Salvatore against Peter Musgrove. Salvatore said the students had been ready to submit their work the day before. Kamal Bechkoum admitted that the granting of the extension had been an “error of judgment” by Peter Musgrove. Salvatore was very clear that he believed an investigation needed to take place and the meeting ended with an agreement that they would meet with Peter Musgrove to discuss the grievance the following day.

I saw Salvatore very stressed by these events and the continuing bullying towards him. He felt unable to go to work the next day. He was on sick leave from 15 November 2005 until 12 December 2005.

Salvatore returned to work on Monday 12 December. He was still very unwell and at 5.45pm on Wednesday 14 December 2005, I accompanied Salvatore home as he was feeling very distressed and sick. I understood from our conversations later that he felt that Peter Musgrove and Steve Garner, a colleague he was working with on a module, were setting him up to look inadequate in front of students.

On 15 December 2005 or thereabouts, I spoke with Robert Moreton by telephone to ask for Salvatore’s leave to be authorised to allow him some time to recover. It was also established during this conversation that Salvatore would have a return to work meeting when he went back to work. I told Robert Moreton Salvatore wanted some independent advice regarding the bullying he had experienced from the University but was very clear that he was not refusing to have a return to work meeting as this was also his wish. Robert Moreton said that getting advice was Salvatore’s prerogative and that some forms would be filled out about Salvatore’s illness on his return to work.

Salvatore remained off work until 09 January 2006. He was ill throughout his leave and attended hospital on 25 December with a serious Bronchial infection. When Salvatore returned to work he was clearly still unwell with stress.
On 11 January 2006, I accompanied Salvatore due to his ill health, to a meeting with Robert Moreton. Whilst we waited outside his office, Robert Moreton acknowledged Salvatore’s ill health and told us that the meeting was an appraisal meeting. After we entered his office a few minutes later, Robert Moreton immediately said that the meeting was not going to be an appraisal meeting after all. He said he had not made any enquiries but questioned what had happened the previous day with Peter Musgrove. He was referring to an argument between Peter Musgrove and Salvatore. Without discussing the matter in any depth, Robert Moreton then suspended Salvatore by reading a scripted text from a piece of paper. I asked if he was also suspending Peter Musgrove for his actions. He said no and repeatedly read from his piece of paper whenever a question was asked. Salvatore questioned Robert Moreton’s motives and asked repeatedly why Robert Moreton was suspending him and what he had done wrong. Robert Moreton refused to give any reason relating to the content of the argument and just kept reading from his piece of paper. He only seemed interested in the fact that the argument had been loud and nothing to do with what was said. The meeting was undignified and seemed to have been prepared beforehand by Robert Moreton. Robert Moreton did not seem at all interested to establish the facts of the matter.

As a result of the argument with Peter Musgrove, a hearing was held in February 2006 resulting in Salvatore receiving a disciplinary warning. Salvatore was refused a request to call me as his witness at both this and the subsequent appeal. I heard a tape recording and clearly heard the Chair promise at the conclusion of the hearing to engage in a process to address the causes of Salvatore’s stress and the instances of bullying. He also stated that the grievances outstanding that Salvatore had entered, should be progressed by the University.

In January 2006, Salvatore and I met with the University Occupational Health Advisor, Vicky Ubhi, at Salvatore’s request. Vicky Ubhi was told of the pending disciplinary action and of the bullying Salvatore had received.
At Salvatore’s request, he and I also met with the University Occupational Health Physician, Dr O’Connell on 26th January 2006. Both Vicky Ubhi and Dr O’Connell were fully aware of the causes of Salvatore’s stress within the bullying he had experienced at the University. A subsequent report by Dr O’Connell discussed later with Vicky Ubhi in another meeting I attended, suggested that the grievance against Peter Musgrove should be addressed as a matter of urgency.

After Salvatore returned to work on 13 February 2006, I heard recordings of two meetings between Kamal Bechkoum and Salvatore. Although Kamal Bechkoum heard from Salvatore regarding the causes of his stress, he did not offer to investigate and did not question Salvatore about how the University could assist his return to work. The emphasis was upon Kamal Bechkoum communicating to Salvatore what he needed to do to catch up with his work and seemed to be more an exercise of reinforcing the disciplinary sanction imposed. He did not offer to address the grievance against Peter Musgrove or any others and said that he would be acting as Salvatore’s line manager for the time being. During these two meetings, I heard Kamal Bechkoum agree that Salvatore would take a lead role in the development of the HCI curriculum and the revalidation process for the coming year. There was no mention of how Salvatore’s stress would be addressed or discussion about what the University might to do to help, despite a request from Salvatore to this effect.

Salvatore again became ill with stress after further incidents and took time off work in May 2006.

On 15 May 2006 I wrote to Vicky Ubhi expressing concern at the lack of effort by the University to address the causes of Salvatore’s stress and failure to implement their own procedures. I requested that she ensure the return to work procedure be properly implemented.

On or around 19th May 2006, I was present when Salvatore asked Vicky Ubhi for a meeting with herself, personnel and Salvatore’s line manager in accordance with the University’s stress absence procedure, as no such invitation or any other contact had been forthcoming from the University and they had not implemented the procedure.
I heard a tape recording of the resultant meeting, which took place on 30 May 2006. I heard Salvatore state clearly that he did not feel it would help to pursue a grievance. He asked for an independent investigation into this and the other causes of his stress to be conducted, to which Kamal Bechkoum and Neil Gordon agreed.

On 03 July 2006 I heard a recording of a meeting between Salvatore and Andrew Bridges, who had been appointed by the University to carry out the investigation. During the meeting, it was agreed that Andrew Bridges would look at Salvatore’s personnel or other files held by the University for details of previous grievances Salvatore had entered, as Salvatore did not want to describe them again. Salvatore talked about some earlier incidents of bullying and harassment and then described how on 08 May 2006, colleague and union representative John Roche had intentionally disrupted an assessment presentation with some students which Salvatore had been chairing and how John Roche had on the same day walked over and slammed the door of the office they shared, in the faces of Salvatore and another colleague, Ros Hampton. Andrew Bridges said that he would speak with John Roche and other relevant individuals and seemed to be content to continue his investigation based on the information Salvatore had provided. He was clear that he could contact Salvatore for any further details.

In November 2006 I contacted Ros Hampton by telephone to ask her about the incident involving John Roche on 8th May 2006. She admitted to me on the phone that she had been upset by the incident but did not pursue a grievance against John Roche. She initially agreed to write down her feelings about the event, but shortly afterwards changed her mind and refused to help, saying it was because I had asked her, rather than Salvatore himself asking her.

On 31 August 2006, I heard a recording of a meeting with Kamal Bechkoum. The day prior, I had accompanied Salvatore to a meeting with the Head of Personnel, Roger Williams, to complain because a request made several weeks prior by Salvatore to Kamal Bechkoum for the reimbursement of expenses incurred by Salvatore for timetabled activities in March 2006, had been ignored. The meeting with Kamal Bechkoum took place as a consequence of this meeting. During the meeting, I heard Kamal Bechkoum threaten Salvatore in a disciplinary way. He refused to explain why he had not approved reimbursement of the expenses, despite requests from Salvatore. He told Salvatore that all expenses needed “authorisation from Rob” beforehand. He further added that authorisation was needed to submit a paper to a conference. Salvatore pointed out that this was not what the finance website and university procedure required. Kamal Bechkoum was reluctant to listen and gave Salvatore an ultimatum of being disciplined or leaving. Salvatore said that he would leave then, indicating that Kamal Bechkoum was not in his right to discipline him for following normal procedures.

On 12 September 2006, I heard a recording of a meeting between Salvatore, Kamal Bechkoum and Neil Gordon in which the results of the stress investigation conducted by Andy Bridges were reported. During the meeting, Salvatore emphasised that he did not feel the investigation had been conducted appropriately and not as had been agreed with Andy Bridges when they had met previously. Kamal Bechkoum said that Salvatore would be provided with another office, as he had been working out of the coffee bar since May after the incident involving John Roche.

On 13 September 2006, I heard recording of a meeting between Kamal Bechkoum and Salvatore. During the meeting, Kamal Bechkoum acknowledged that Salvatore had never had appraisal before then. Various research and curriculum development objectives for Salvatore were discussed but no reference whatsoever was made during the meeting to any disciplinary issues or allegations of misconduct or other problems.

On 14 September 2006, I heard a recording of a meeting between Salvatore, Kevan Buckley and Robert Moreton. Salvatore had requested this meeting to clarify some issues concerning Salvatore and Kevan Buckley. Salvatore submitted a written complaint about events involving Kevan Buckley and in particular his previous insinuation that Salvatore should resign from the Learning and Teaching Committee. However, Robert Moreton refused to accept the document, making clear that he wanted no record of the grievance. Salvatore explained how he had raised his complaint verbally during a previous learning and teaching committee meeting, but that Kevan Buckley had not responded. As Robert Moreton had claimed that Salvatore had “stormed out” of the committee meeting, Salvatore asked who had made such an allegation. As I had heard a recording of the committee meeting, I knew that Salvatore had in fact left quietly and without comment several minutes after raising his complaint. Robert Moreton refused to say who had made the allegation and was clearly not interested in investigating. He accepted without question when Kevan Buckley claimed to have received an email of resignation from the committee from Salvatore. Salvatore asked Kevan Buckley to produce the email, but Kevan Buckley said he would only do so after the meeting. Robert Moreton then began a critical tirade against Salvatore, telling him that “people don’t like your perceptions” or words to that effect. There was no resolution at the end of the meeting, which had been turned into an attack against Salvatore by Robert Moreton, supported by Kevan Buckley. Robert Moreton was not interested in receiving the email Kevan Buckley had referred to and refused to allow Salvatore to lodge his grievance formally in writing.

On 11 or 12 October 2006, Salvatore again became ill with stress and worsening depression. He could not face going back to work after being away. We sought to see a GP and the doctor confirmed that Salvatore should avoid the stress of work and began a course of treatment for Salvatore’s stress, anxiety and depression.
Throughout this time my primary concern was for Salvatore’s health. I was extremely worried to see him so ill. He would become suddenly highly agitated. He also would suffer tremendous periods (from hours to days) of distress, anxiety and depressiveness, often sleeping for most of the day and rarely going out.
Salvatore was called to a disciplinary hearing for 18 October 2006 but he was absolutely unfit to represent himself or attend such a hearing at the time and it was postponed.

On 10 November 2006, I accompanied Salvatore to meet with Maggie Burton, the University Occupational Health Advisor. Salvatore had requested the meeting by phone on 09 November, after receiving no contact from Occupational Health since he went off sick. During the meeting, the instances of bullying and harassment were recounted in detail. I handed Maggie Burton a letter describing some of my observations regarding Salvatore’s symptoms and Salvatore also left with her a written grievance regarding the lack of support up to then received from the University to address the causes of his stress. She expressed her opinion that Salvatore was not fit to return to work. She did not make any assessment of Salvatore’s health and neither did she refer to any medical evidence. She offered Salvatore the choice of seeing the Occupational Health Physician, which he declined and she accepted this. It was agreed that Salvatore’s General Practitioner could be contacted by Maggie Burton for his professional opinion. Towards the end of the meeting, I stated very clearly that I expected her to follow the procedures this time to help Salvatore return to work in a fair way, as the university had previously failed in this respect and she promised to do so.

On 24 November, I phoned to Maggie Burton to complain about a report she had written to Neil Gordon after our meeting on 10th November 2006. I told her I believed her conduct was not befitting of a health professional and that she was not interested in Salvatore’s wellbeing. I made her aware that I had a detailed record of the meeting we had held and that her report was a false record of it. I told her that Salvatore was not fit to attend a disciplinary meeting and that I was disgusted by the report she had written because it did not reflect what she had said at the meeting we had at all. I made her aware that Salvatore was also feeling worse and now did not feel like leaving the house at all.

On 27th November 2006, I sent a fax to Geoff Hampton, explaining that Salvatore was not well enough to attend or represent himself at a disciplinary hearing and was still on certified sick leave. He subsequently phoned and told me that he would not want to proceed with any disciplinary hearings for any member of staff who was not well enough and said he would postpone the hearing.

Between December 2006 and March 2007, a number of appointments were scheduled with the occupational health physician of the University, which were cancelled because Salvatore did not feel well enough to attend and was receiving treatment from his GP, who would often visit him at home when he felt too ill to attend the medical practice.

In or around January 2007, I telephoned to Dr O’Connell, the Occupational Health Physician Salvatore had previously met with. I told Dr O’Connell that the recommendations he had made in his previous report had been ignored by the University. He responded by telling me that the university could choose to ignore his reports, saying something like ‘I can say A and they do B’.

Salvatore’s health was worsening during this period. In January 2007, his GP wrote to the University. After the reassurance from Geoff Hampton, I believed that the University would consider and act on this medical report, which again pointed to the causes of Salvatore’s stress illness.

Each time Salvatore was reviewed by his GP, I sent the sick note in to the University by post and/or fax.

On 16 April 2007, the GP reviewed Salvatore at home, because he was too ill to attend the medical practice. Just before leaving, he contemplated writing to the university to see if he could help but said that they should really contact him first. I sent confirmation that Salvatore was still unwell to the University by fax the same day and sent the sick note by post afterwards.

On 18 April 2007, a special delivery card was left by the Royal Mail whilst I was out and Salvatore was sleeping. I did not know what this related to or who it was from but only that it was for Salvatore and that he felt too ill to either collect the item or deal with any correspondence.

On 24 April 2007, I came into the house to find that another Special delivery card had been delivered. Salvatore was very agitated and disoriented and had been sleeping on the sofa. He explained that someone had been banging loudly on the window and had woken him. He said he hadn’t realised it was the Royal Mail but had indicated that he was not able to come to the door. Salvatore was upset. At that time, he was not well enough to collect the item or deal with any correspondence.

On 03 May 2007, I was shocked when Salvatore received a letter, wrongly dated 01 April 2007, enclosing notes apparently taken at a “Stage 4 (Dismissal) hearing”. I understood from reading the notes that the respondent had dismissed Salvatore in his absence and that the 5 days allowed for appeal had already elapsed. I was surprised that the hearing had been so short and could not understand from the notes what evidence or individuals were being referred to.

I did not know at the time that the hearing was taking place. The University had made no attempt to contact Salvatore by ‘phone, email or regular post, despite having done so before the previous disciplinary hearing.

Because I had forwarded medical evidence to the University, they were aware that Salvatore was not fit to attend a hearing. They were also aware that he did not know about the hearing and he did not have chance to appeal.

Melody Boyce

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