Deakin University Bullying Claim Sheds Light on Document Relevance

11 August 2017

In an anti-bullying claim between two Deakin University law school academics, Fair Work Commission (“FWC“) Commissioner Michelle Bissett has held that the claim has become sufficiently complex to warrant legal representation for both parties.

The claim arose amid accusations of bullying between a Deakin University law lecturer and a professor, the former claiming that the professor’s behaviour towards him has become unreasonable, repeated and a risk to his health and safety in the workplace.

In early May 2017, Commissioner Michelle Bissett refused an application by the lecturer to access a 2015 report into allegations of misconduct by the professor while the professor was working at the University of Newcastle (“UoN“).

In making the application, the lecturer claimed that the report contained evidence of similar bullying conduct, and that this conduct indicates a propensity on the part of the professor to engage in bullying behaviour. The report, the lecturer argued, was therefore relevant to the issues at hand in his own claim.

In making the decision to bar access to the report, Commissioner Michelle Bissett held that the relevance of the report was in question. As the claim before the FWC involved conduct between the professor and the lecturer, any documents that fall outside of this relationship may be considered lacking in relevance.

Commissioner Michelle Bissett went on to make the point that the professor’s behaviour at UoN, in circumstances where the lecturer was not employed by UoN, cannot have relevance to the determination of the professor’s behaviour with respect to the lecturer at Deakin.

Although FWC Commissioners are given broad discretion to require documents to be produced, this decision sheds some light on the manner in which relevance is determined by FWC Commissioners.