Ex-civil servant 'tied to a chair and gagged' to tell all at tribunal

So what’s the REAL truth about the picture that shocked Scotland? Ex-civil servant was ‘tied to a chair and gagged by colleagues’ but sacked after speaking out over misogyny… now she plans to tell all to a tribunal

  • DeeAnn Fitzpatrick is claiming wrongful dismissal and breach of contract
  • Fisheries officer was sacked after calling out bosses on misogyny and racism 
  • Ms Fitzpatrick worked for Scottish government for 11 years before firing last year
  • Canada-born Ms Fitzpatrick dismissed by Marine Scotland for gross misconduct 
  • Agency ruled she was willing participant in chair incident – dubbed Chairgate 

It is a harrowing image that sickened many when it went viral on the internet more than three years ago – one of a woman gagged and bound tightly with parcel tape to an office chair, apparently at the hands of male colleagues intent on ‘teaching her a lesson’.

That the humiliating incident could happen in a division of the Scottish Government, a body which prides itself on being a champion of workplace equality, only added to the shock and led to MSPs demanding answers and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon promising a full inquiry.

Now the latest chapter in the row – dubbed Chairgate – will see the woman pictured tied to the chair, DeeAnn Fitzpatrick, a fisheries officer who loved her job but was sacked last year for persistently calling out her bosses on misogyny and racism, go head-to-head this week with the Government at an employment tribunal.

She is seeking reinstatement after Marine Scotland, whose own probe into the chair incident found the men involved ‘had no case to answer’, subsequently dismissed her for gross misconduct, ruling that she was a willing participant who only turned the ‘high jinks’ fun into something more serious months afterwards to get her male colleagues into bother.

Heavy restrictions have been imposed on the evidence Ms Fitzpatrick, who is originally from Canada, can present in support of her wrongful dismissal and breach of contract claim, with the Government’s legal team opposing the submission of a number of key documents, including a damning diary she was ordered to keep by her union rep after raising her concerns about bullying at work.

Its entries list examples of her being frequently called a ‘f****** r****d’, a ‘f****** foreign Canadian b***h’ and snide remarks following a miscarriage and the length of time she was off work as a result. 

Now the latest chapter in the row – dubbed Chairgate – will see the woman pictured tied to the chair, DeeAnn Fitzpatrick (pictured), a fisheries officer who loved her job but was sacked last year for persistently calling out her bosses on misogyny and racism, go head-to-head this week with the Government at an employment tribunal

She is seeking reinstatement after Marine Scotland, whose own probe into the chair incident found the men involved ‘had no case to answer’, subsequently dismissed her for gross misconduct, ruling that she was a willing participant who only turned the ‘high jinks’ fun into something more serious months afterwards to get her male colleagues into bother.

Last night, speaking for the first time ahead of the showdown, she said: ‘I thought I worked for the Scottish Government who supported and protected their staff, but no woman should have to go through what I have had to go through at work. 

‘I’ve lost almost everything, including my good name and a job that I loved.

‘But I want to stand up for myself and every other human being who has ever been spat on, called a w***e, told to go f*** themselves, knocked in the head, had their glasses knocked off their face, racially abused, mocked for having a miscarriage, taken advantage of when their mental health is suffering and physically assaulted when they speak out in their place of work.’

Ms Fitzpatrick had hoped to force several people to give evidence at the tribunal, including some of the men at the centre of her allegations. 

But at preliminary hearings last month, the employment judge refused that request, along with another to summon Ms Sturgeon as a witness.

In Holyrood, in March 2019, the First Minister had spoken of being ‘absolutely horrified’ at the photograph, adding that ‘bullying, abuse, sexism, racism have no place in any workplace and will not be tolerated within the Government or within our agencies.’

Last night, Ms Fitzpatrick, who worked at the agency for 11 years and claims the bullying began only after she had returned to work following a miscarriage, said: ‘The Government inquiry she called for did take place but its full findings have never been made public and I was not allowed to see the report.

‘As far as I’m concerned, it was a box-ticking exercise. What are they hiding?

‘Eventually I was sent a heavily redacted version which was just a few lines in length.

‘Not even the MSPs have seen it but apparently the First Minister has, so I wanted her to tell us in person what the inquiry had discovered.’

The tribunal judge has allowed her to proceed with the assertion she was dismissed because she made protected disclosures under whistleblowing guidelines, but she can only base her arguments on two emails.

The site where Ms Fitzpatrick was pictured gagged and bound in a chair while working for the Scottish government 

One contains information about the alleged assault of another female colleague in the workplace and another about the chair incident, which took place in the agency’s Scrabster office in Caithness.

She is, however, hoping a new report by a digital forensics expert at her tribunal will help clear her name. 

It is understood the report casts doubt on Marine Scotland’s findings over the image, which was ultimately stored on a government computer and, as a result, would make it difficult to lie about the time and date, as it claims she did.

Her request to submit her diary was declined following objections from Marine Scotland, who said it predated the two main incidents she is permitted to discuss at her tribunal and should be disallowed.

Ms Fitzpatrick said: ‘It really saddens me that we are where we are today. A list of over 35 allegations of racism, sexual harassment and bullying to your human resources department and the only major action is to subject the victim to corporate harassment. It’s clear something is very wrong.’

Labour MSP Rhoda Grant, who first brought the case to Holyrood’s attention after being made aware of Ms Fitzpatrick’s ordeal by another member of staff at Marine Scotland, said: ‘It is one of the most horrifying cases of misogyny and bullying I have ever seen.

‘I have spoken to different members of Marine Scotland staff who are also appalled by DeeAnn’s treatment and witnessed it first-hand. I have taken her case everywhere I can, even to the First Minister. 

‘But it feels to me like the whole of the Government have conspired to trash her reputation.

DeeAnn Fitzpatrick (pictured) claimed a decade of bullying at Marine Scotland’s Scrabster office made her contemplate suicide

‘Last week I heard Nicola Sturgeon encouraging whistleblowers to contact her and I immediately thought of DeeAnn. 

‘I hope that no whistleblower puts themselves in her hands as she has absolutely failed DeeAnn, who has shown immense resilience in the face of unbelievable pressure and deserves a fair, independent hearing to investigate what she suffered.

‘We also must ensure that no other woman ever goes through what DeeAnn has had to suffer.’

A Public and Commercial Services Union source added: ‘It is worrying the Government has never properly investigated what was going on in their Scrabster office.

‘Instead, the focus has been unfairly placed on the person attempting to get these appalling allegations properly addressed.

‘I hope that this employment tribunal, however curtailed in its scope, provides DeeAnn with some avenue to have her significant concerns fairly and objectively considered.’

A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘Harassment or abuse of any form is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated in the Scottish Government.’ 

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