ACT News

Producer who claimed ABC 'toxic' has her compensation frozen by court on appeal

A former ABC producer who claimed she was bullied by a breakfast radio presenter has had a compensation payout frozen on appeal.

Peta Martin must now await a tribunal decision on her case against the public broadcaster after the Federal Court found that a legal misinterpretation had handed her the win.

Ms Martin worked as a producer at the public broadcaster in Renmark, South Australia, between 2010 and 2012.

She claimed she became anxious, unable to sleep, and felt isolated from colleagues after her boss, Bruce Mellett, and journalist Tom Coull bullied and harassed her, subjecting her to "repeated inappropriate behaviour" that created a "toxic" work environment.

She alleged she had been shouted at, confronted in an "aggressive" manner for watching online videos at work, sworn at her when she asked a question, stared at, and had been ignored during "passive aggressive behaviour".

Mr Mellett's notes from the time report his frustration at Ms Martin's work, including her time management and organisational skills, urgency in producing stories, errors in stories, and writing ability.

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An internal ABC investigation found no issue with Mr Mellett's behaviour.

Ms Martin then suffered a breakdown in 2012 when she missed out on a job in Hobart as a cross-media reporter.

Mr Mellett had sat on the selection panel.

Ms Martin was diagnosed with adjustment disorder, with symptoms of anxiety and depression, and was certified as unfit for work in March 2012.

Comcare rejected her claim for workers' compensation for psychological ailment, finding that her unsuccessful job application had been a legitimate human resources decision.

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal overruled Comcare's decision in August last year and ordered it to pay the compensation.

The tribunal concluded that the decision not to promote her was administrative action which was not taken in a reasonable manner, and had not been satisfied that Mr Mellett's opinion of Ms Martin could be "quarantined" from his deliberations as a selection panel member.

But Comcare took the fight to the Federal Court, where a judge this week found in its favour.

Justice John Griffiths, in a judgment published on Wednesday, said the tribunal had made a number of errors, including misconstruing the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act.

"In my view, it was that fundamental error of misconstruction which distorted the tribunal's analysis," Justice Griffiths wrote.

"Instead of taking into account all the relevant matters …  the tribunal essentially focused on the question whether the recruitment process was tainted by apprehended bias in an administrative law sense by Mr Mellett's participation on the selection panel.

"That error of construction requires the tribunal's decision to be set aside and the matter remitted to the tribunal for reconsideration according to law."

The judge ordered the decision be set aside and the matter go back to the tribunal to "be heard and determined according to law".

Ms Martin was ordered to pay Comcare's costs.