The businessman and former presidential candidate Peter Casey was abusive, bullying and “almost violent” at a meeting two years ago where he fired an executive of his recruitment company, the Labour Court has heard.
While the former executive, Michael O’Sullivan, was accused of making “wild, unfounded allegations” against Mr Casey, the Labour Court said it was regrettable that the founder of Claddagh Resources was not available as a witness in an unfair dismissal case against his firm.
Mr O’Sullivan is appealing a ruling of the Workplace Relations Commission to the Labour Court which only awarded him €250 compensation despite finding that he had been unfairly dismissed by the company.
The WRC ruled Mr O’Sullivan had contributed to his own dismissal from his €45,000 a year job by making “an outrageous and unfounded” threat against a female colleague and lied about it being based on legal advice which had resulted in her leaving Claddagh Resources.
Mr Sullivan told the Labour Court that he found the WRC’s decision to be “bizarre.”
At the outset of the appeal hearing on Wednesday, the deputy chairman of the Labour Court, Alan Haugh, said it was regrettable that Mr Casey was not available as a witness as he had signed the letter of dismissal issued to Mr O’Sullivan on March 23rd, 2021.
“Ordinarily, one would expect the decision-maker to be present,” Mr Haugh remarked.
Mr Casey (65), who finished second in the 2018 presidential election to President Michael D Higgins as well as featuring as a panellist on RTÉ’s version of the TV programme Dragons’ Den, signed the letter as executive chairman of Claddagh Resources.
The Labour Court also heard claims by Mr O’Sullivan that Mr Casey was abusive and shouting at him and “almost violent” at an appraisal meeting held with the company’s management team on March 18th, 2021 where he was fired “on the spot.”
Cross-examined on such a claim, another director who was also present at the meeting, George McAllister, accepted that Mr Casey had raised his voice during the exchanges.
However, the company’s solicitor, Niall Tansey, said Mr Casey “categorically denied” that he was aggressive and abusive towards the appellant.
Mr Tansey told the Labour Court that Mr O’Sullivan, who worked with the firm since April 2018, was dismissed due to a combination of poor performance and sending a “shocking, threatening and intimidating” e-mail to a colleague.
The solicitor said Claddagh Resources had “bent over backwards” to help Mr O’Sullivan through the introduction of a performance improvement plan.
Mr Tansey said Mr O’Sullivan had not brought in any revenue for almost 12 months before his dismissal, while the threatening e-mail sent on March 23rd, 2021 was “the final straw.”
The Labour Court heard that Mr O’Sullivan was denied a right to appeal his dismissal as the company claimed its decision was final.
Questioned by Mr Haugh if Claddagh Resources accepted it did not follow fair procedures, Mr Tansey conceded he had been dismissed without a right to appeal but argued it had no alternative given the actions taken by Mr O’Sullivan and the dismissal was not unfair.
The Labour Court heard the performance improvement plan introduced for Mr O’Sullivan was to be considered as the “only written warning notice” he would get.
Mr O’Sullivan, who represented himself, said he believed he had been dismissed by Mr Casey at the appraisal meeting, although he also said he would leave the final decision to Mr Casey’s son, Ryan Casey, who is Claddagh’s chief executive.
He recalled the businessman saying: “You have to leave. You are dismissed.”
Mr O’Sullivan said he believed he was dismissed because “people were talking about me behind my back” and “my cards were marked before any e-mail was sent.”
He claimed Ryan Casey had offered him the opportunity of a further appraisal but he refused to accept the offer as he was being set impossible targets.
He said Mr Casey’s son seemed to be “back-tracking” from his father’s earlier decision to dismiss him.
The Labour Court heard that Mr O’Sullivan had sent an e-mail to a colleague in which he claimed he had spoken to a solicitor who confirmed that she could be fired for making defamatory marks about him.
'Bullied for a year'
When asked by Mr Haugh if he accepted the e-mail should not have been written, Mr O’Sullivan replied that he was finally standing up for himself “after being bullied for a year” but did not think he was doing anything wrong.
He told the Labour Court he was afraid to raise any grievance over that time because he feared he would be “gone in a heartbeat.”
Mr O'Sullivan, who is currently unemployed, told the Labour Court that he was without a job for around five months after leaving Claddagh and estimated his lost income at €20,000.
In evidence, Mr McAllister, said the performance plan had resulted in a better work ethic by Mr O’Sullivan but had not generated any revenue.
Asked who would have conducted any appeal, Mr McAllister said he believed it would have been Peter Casey.
Mr McAllister disagreed with Mr O’Sullivan that his performance was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic as his main client was continuing to hire staff at the time.
Ryan Casey told the Labour Court that Mr O’Sullivan’s actions were a major threat to the company’s revenue as he had been asked by a key client, TCS Ireland, to get the recruitment executive to “tone down” his aggressive e-mails.
Giving evidence remotely from the US, Mr Casey said the appellant had a long history of under-performance and was constantly putting forward “low quality candidates” for jobs which were “not a fit.”
He disputed Mr O’Sullivan’s claim that he had set unachievable targets in the final chance he had given the employee in March 2021 as Mr Casey pointed out they were the exact same targets set out in his original contract of employment.
Mr Casey said the e-mail sent by Mr O’Sullivan to his colleague was “shocking” as there was no basis for his suggestion that there had been a witch-hunt against him.
Under questioning by Mr Haugh, Mr Casey accepted Claddagh Resources did not appear to have a right of appeal under the company’s procedures.
Asked why not, Mr Casey acknowledged that he had “no answer.”
Quizzed about who in Claddagh could have conducted any appeal if one had been heard, Mr Casey accepted there was no director who was not involved in the dismissal process.
The Labour Court will publish its ruling on the appeal in due course.