‘We’ll see who has big balls’ – firing of equestrian center employee who allegedly sent threatening text is upheld
A prospective riding instructor who was fired because his employer saw an alleged threat of violence in a text has failed in his lawsuit for abusive dismissal.
We’ll see who has big balls, when my family and [my partner’s family] come to see her on Friday,” the man wrote in a message to a colleague submitted as evidence to the Workplace Relations Commission.
Shane Kehoe accused the Fettercairn Youth Horse Project (FYHP) of unfairly dismissing him to avoid being dismissed.
A lawyer for the youth project denied an abusive termination and said its board was concerned about the content of the text, which was sent to him on April 28, two weeks after it was sent.
Michelle Quinn of Colm O’Cochlain & Company Solicitors, who appeared for the horse center, said an emergency board meeting was called the same day, the hearing was held and the minutes were presented in evidence.
Ms Quinn said representatives from the Tallaght Travellers’ Community Development Project and other board members present concluded that the possibility of the two families coming to the yard to confront the manager “represents a real threat of violence”.
She said the horse project took advice from gardaí on the matter and decided to close her yard to the public that day.
“The defendant was concerned at all times for the safety and well-being of that employee and the children, parents, youth workers and other employees who would be present on the farm and to whom she owed a duty of care,” said Dr. Quin has submitted.
“There was a real fear of a threat of violence and the possibility of an employee being harmed. The defendant couldn’t just ignore that,” she added.
Gerry Fitzgibbon, representing Mr Kehoe, said at the hearing that “an alternative to dismissal was never considered by the employer, although there was no history or sanctions against him or any such proceedings pending.
“The matter was mishandled and grossly unfair and a cynical attempt to avoid paying compensation to the complainant,” he added.
He said his client was never asked at the disciplinary hearing to explain or clarify what he meant by the “big balls” text.
Minutes of the board’s emergency meeting state there was a need to “deter possible criminal action”, which Mr Fitzgibbon described as “unfounded”.
“[My client] worked for the Fettercairn Youth Horse Project for several years and his wife and family were well known,” he said. “In that time there had never been an incident that would have given reason to believe that either family ‘posed a real threat of violence,'” he added.
“Such allegations had the potential to bring feuds to the complainant’s door and … [that of] his wife’s family, who are members of the Traveling Community,” added Mr. Fitzgibbon.
He said Mr Kehoe meant in the text that he “wanted to meet with his manager to discuss his concerns rather than any perceived underlying threat”.
The youth project took the position that this did not stand up to scrutiny.
Mr Fitzgibbon added that some members of the Disciplinary Committee investigating his client for alleged gross misconduct were involved in the final decision on his dismissal.
In a decision released on Sunday, sentencing officer Orla Jones found that Mr Kehoe had “attempted to claim that the text message related to a planned meeting with the defendant” involving his family and in-laws.
She noted that there was no such agreement “other than for the purpose construed by the recipient of the text.”
Ms Jones noted that a youth project witness said “her concern was increased” when, on one occasion, Mr Kehoe’s mother drove “at a dangerous speed that could startle the ponies” across the farm.
The same witness also mentioned references in Mr. Kehoe’s texts to “losing nothing” and “drawing the manager with you,” Ms. Jones noted.
There were “procedural difficulties” with the dismissal, but these were not enough to make it procedurally unfair, she wrote.
In an environment with children and potentially dangerous animals, “it is clear that the defendant could not take any chances,” she wrote.
She did not find the youth project’s actions unreasonable and the termination decision not unfair – and declared Mr Kehoe’s lawsuit unfounded.
https://www.independent.ie/news/we-will-see-who-has-big-balls-sacking-of-equestrian-centre-worker-who-sent-allegedly-threatening-text-upheld-41655149.html ‘We’ll see who has big balls’ – firing of equestrian center employee who allegedly sent threatening text is upheld