Opera Australia has sacked one of its singers after it found her claim that her ex-husband impersonated her on social media to make abusive posts was "implausible".
Vanessa Lewis, a member of OA's chorus since 1995, said she will consider legal action against the national opera company after it terminated her employment on October 30 over allegations of misconduct.
The allegations included claims Ms Lewis posted "inappropriate" photos and comments of a sexual nature about a fellow opera singer in a private Facebook group during 2015 and 2016.
However, Ms Lewis said her ex-husband David Lewis - an opera tenor who was convicted of historic child sex offences in 2018 and sentenced to three years' jail - had access to her social media accounts and would often log in as her.
She also said he forced her to write some of the posts because she was a victim of domestic violence.
Lewis admitted in court that he was a narcissist and had been emotionally abusive towards his former wives.
However, OA's human resources department said these explanations in regards to the comments in the private Facebook group were, "in OA's view, implausible".
An OA spokeswoman did not answer questions about Ms Lewis' dismissal, but said the company "stands firmly against domestic violence and abuse of any kind".
"Opera Australia does not provide commentary relating to confidential workplace or employee matters, including matters relating to former employees," she said in a statement.
An investigation into Ms Lewis commenced in March 2019 in response to allegations of bullying, harassment and breaches of workplace policies.
The allegations followed claims of bullying made by Ms Lewis against a fellow singer, which resulted in an order from the Fair Work Commission that the opera company minimise contact between the two performers.
It was alleged Ms Lewis made "inappropriate" comments about a colleague in a private Facebook group, including "It can't be [name of employee]. Her flaps are looser than that" and "You've been fingering [initials of employee] again haven't you? STOP IT".
Opera Australia sacked Ms Lewis in a letter sent on October 30 after an independent investigation found two out of 10 allegations of workplace misconduct had been substantiated.
It was also found that Ms Lewis had displayed a lack of honesty during the investigation - a claim disputed by Ms Lewis.
"Vanessa, although OA does not dispute nor question your assertions that you have been and/or are a victim of domestic violence, it remains our view that in the substantiated allegations, you have acted in a manner that falls significantly below OA's expectations of you as an employee," the letter said.
"Your actions have seriously diminished the trust and confidence we have in you and your ability to perform the professional requirements of your role."
A number of workers have been sacked over social media posts including rugby union player Israel Folau, who is suing Rugby Australia for unlawfully terminating his contract after he posted comments about homosexuals and sinners on social media.
Joellen Riley Munton, a professor of law at the University of Technology Sydney, said employees who criticise colleagues on social media risked losing their job if the posts were particularly vicious or deliberately caused grief at work.
"But if the posts are on a site with privacy settings, or were not particularly insulting, or can be seen to be just a bit of 'letting off steam' at home, then the employee might establish that the employer has been unreasonable in sacking," she said.
Professor Riley Munton also said OA may not be able to justify the sacking if it cannot prove Ms Lewis made the posts.
She said it was odd that the posts were so old: "A Commissioner hearing an unfair dismissal case would want to know why the employer took so long to act on this, if it was a serious matter."
Ms Lewis' lawyer said the disciplinary action taken against her was "clearly a retaliatory exercise" for bringing anti-bullying proceedings against the national opera company and one of its employees.
He also suggested OA had relied on evidence provided by Mr Lewis to justify its decision to sack her.
"Presumably Opera Australia will call him as a witness to give evidence on its behalf from the prison where he is serving a sentence for having abused a child who was working for the company," he said in a letter to OA.
The opera company had treated Ms Lewis differently from her ex-husband, according to her lawyer. "He remained scheduled to perform in a production for months after his arrest. The differential treatment speaks volumes."
He said Ms Lewis was facing the premature end of a distinguished career "in circumstances that are manifestly unfair".
- SMH/The Age