A Qantas pilot sacked after groping the breast of a female second officer while he was drunk and stoned in Santiago, Chile, has failed in his bid to have his dismissal reviewed.
Qantas fired Stephen Gregory – a B747 pilot and first officer of nearly 20 years’ standing – for the behaviour in February 2014. It was judged “serious misconduct”. Gregory had subsequently argued before Australia’s Fair Work Commission that his beer had been spiked with a drug at a pub in Santiago before he sexually harassed his co-pilot.
The tribunal last week upheld the earlier ruling and refused Gregory permission to appeal.
The tribunal heard that “the appellant is now 55 years of age and has a long and unblemished record at Qantas and indeed in the aviation industry where he had been working for 30 years prior to his dismissal. He had no performance issues whatsoever in his entire career and certainly no issues at all of any sexual harassment.”
The problem arose on a two-day stopover in Santiago, when the crew shared a bottle of rum in their hotel before visiting an Irish pub in Bellavista, a precinct known for its nightlife.
Gregory separated from his colleagues at the pub and returned about 30 minutes later “displaying signs associated with being highly intoxicated”. Heading home in a taxi later in the evening, he held and massaged the female co-pilot’s breast against her will, the Fair Work Commission heard.
“He was later seen passed out on the floor of his hotel room.”
Next morning, Gregory was stood down by the senior Qantas captain and told what happened. He was remorseful and indicated he could not remember the events of the previous night. It was suggested he may have had his drink spiked at the Irish pub as his behaviour was out of character.
A urine test revealed cannabis in Gregory’s system and Qantas sacked him with five weeks’ pay.
In his decision last year, the Commissioner stated: “The conclusion that I am compelled to make is that, on the balance of probabilities, having regard for the elevated level of satisfaction required because of the serious nature of the conduct under examination, the applicant was not an innocent victim of drink spiking.
“The significantly more plausible proposition which is most strongly supported by the totality of the evidence is that the applicant separated from his colleagues as a deliberate act in the pursuit of imbibing cannabis, or a cannabis derivative, or some other substance. In all likelihood, this action of the applicant occurred because of an invitation or suggestion made by the person or persons with whom he had engaged in conversation shortly after arriving at the Irish pub.”
The Commissioner noted that the standards for personal responsibility were “very high in the case of an occupation such as a commercial pilot”.
“Other matters relating to the personal circumstances of the applicant and the loss of long-standing, unblemished employment are tragic. However, any personal sympathy does not negate or diminish the seriousness with which the employer was entitled to treat the misconduct of the applicant. In such circumstances it would be wrong for the Commission to disturb the decision made by the employer to dismiss the applicant.”
The Commissioner also noted: “In particular, I have great sympathy for a person in circumstances where their unblemished long-standing career has been decimated as a result of one bad decision. If I was personally assessing the disciplinary action in this instance I would have probably avoided dismissal. However, it is not the role of the Commission to stand in the shoes of the employer. Further, I understand and accept that because of the nature of the applicant’s occupation and in particular, the requirement for the employer to have confidence in the decision-making capabilities of its pilots that it determined that dismissal of the applicant was appropriate.”
The Commissioner therefore found that Gregory’s dismissal by Qantas “was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable. Consequently, the application for unfair dismissal remedy is dismissed.”
The tribunal last week upheld the Commissioner’s earlier ruling, and refused Gregory permission to appeal, noting that “it is well accepted that in a workplace such as this high standards of behaviour are required”.
Written by Peter Needham