Former NSW paramedic loses appeal against dismissal for ‘disgusting’ emails

A former senior New South Wales paramedic who helped a manager get into an Elton John concert without a ticket and used “disgusting” language while denigrating his colleagues has lost an appeal against his dismissal.

Brian Knowles, a former duty operations manager, appealed to the Industrial Relations Commission about the decision to sack him, saying he had been the victim of a “witch-hunt” by the Ambulance Service of NSW.

But the commissioner, Janine Webster, found in a decision published last month that the August 2021 dismissal was justified.

Knowles admitted that he had sent emails and text messages to his line manager, Kerry Akester, between mid-2016 and early 2020, where he referred to groups of colleagues as “that bunch of spastics”, “retard crew” and “cunts”, and individuals as “gobshite” and “vomit”.

In the communications, Knowles said he would “just have to push [a colleague] down the stairs” and said he was “going to throat punch” another.

Knowles agreed the discussions with Akester, a former group manager, were inappropriate and even “disgusting”, Webster found.

But Knowles said that they were consistent with management training he had received in 2010 which had taught him about “venting upwards”.

“These messages were nothing more than two managers venting their frustrations in what was an extremely stressful job, working in a toxic environment,” Knowles said.

Webster found that Knowles had denigrated colleagues because of their sexuality, describing one as “rainbow boy” and another as “lesso” to Akester, and using the term “shirt lifter” during a discussion in an ambulance station about a senior manager.

Knowles agreed that in January 2020 he had asked for Akester’s name to be put on the guest list of an Elton John concert at Hope Estate, where he was working as the event forward commander.

Knowles said he had ignored previous offers of free tickets to such events, but after “multiple requests” by Akester he added her to the list.

Webster said that Knowles, a paramedic for 17 years, had been good at his job, which he loved and was dedicated to.

“Taken separately and alone, each of the substantiated allegations may not have been a sufficient basis to terminate the appellant’s employment,” she said.

“However, the overall pattern of conduct by the appellant demonstrated a willingness on his part, over a significant period, to engage in the workplace in a manner that is not consistent with his obligations and the respondent’s values as provided for in its code of conduct.

“Had the appellant taken a different approach to these matters being raised earlier, for example, by taking greater responsibility for his conduct during the investigation process, the conclusion I have reached may have been different.”

Webster found that some of the allegations against Knowles could not be proven.

Jordan Emery – NSW Ambulance’s then deputy director of clinical operations, the most senior officer in the region and one of the colleagues denigrated by Knowles – said at the time that the service would be reviewed to address “workplace grievances”.

“It’s no secret there have been significant cultural challenges in Hunter New England – that’s been reflected in staff surveys and that’s been reflected in people’s experience,” he said.

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