Casino Canberra ordered to pay employee damages

By William Brown Updated
Iris Capital purchases Casino Canberra from Aquis

Casino Canberra must pay a long-serving employee $4000 in damages after a tribunal found it discriminated against the man when he raised the legitimate concerns of his colleagues with this newspaper.

The Canberra Times reports Bryan Kidman spoke to the newspaper in August 2019 when many casino employees were fearing for their jobs and desperate for answers on their futures.

While the deal ultimately fell through, the controlling interest in the Civic casino was at that point on the brink of changing hands in a complex $32 million transaction.

Mr Kidman, who has worked at the casino since 2003, took part in the interview with the newspaper in his role as a delegate for the hospitality workers’ union.

He said in the August article that United Voice had sought written assurances for casino employees that the impending deal would not result in forced redundancies, changes to rosters or outsourcing of work.

But no such guarantees were forthcoming from Blue Whale Entertainment, which was at that time in the final stages of the ultimately failed acquisition.

Casino owner Aquis Entertainment Limited had also failed to provide the requested assurances.

As a result, Mr Kidman said, casino workers had been left in the dark about staffing levels, wages and other conditions.

“If they won’t give us an undertaking about the conditions, then there must be a reason for that,” he said.

Casino lawyer contacts Mr Kidman alleging breaches

Two days after the article was published, the casino’s in-house lawyer Shane Maundrell wrote to Mr Kidman with approval from Aquis boss Allison Gallaugher.

Mr Maundrell expressed concerns that Mr Kidman’s quote might place him in breach of behavioural standards that prohibit casino employees from spreading or supporting “rumours” and “gossip”.

The lawyer also alleged that another of Mr Kidman’s comments in the article – “we are not being told anything, we’ve had no information” – misrepresented communications between casino management and staff.

The letter said that unless Mr Kidman provided a response that persuaded management to take a different course, the matter would likely “proceed to formal performance counselling.”

Mr Kidman interpreted this as the start of a disciplinary process that could lead to the loss of his job; a possibility that caused “personal distress, stress and sleepless nights.”

He subsequently took Casino Canberra to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Mr Kidman claimed the casino had discriminated against him and unfairly subjected him to “unfavourable treatment” by sending him the letter and threatening repercussions for taking part in industrial activity that was perfectly legal.

Tribunal senior member Jann Lennard agreed, finding that Mr Kidman was authorised as a union delegate to advocate for casino staffers in the media.

“The evidence before the tribunal establishes, on the balance of probabilities that workers at the casino were concerned about what might happen to their jobs and terms of employment once the sale of the casino had been completed,” Ms Lennard said.

“The union had raised concerns with both the current management of the casino and the prospective buyer and were not satisfied with the information they had received.

“Exerting public pressure on an employer is a commonplace and legitimate industrial activity. Obtaining publicity by participating in interviews with a local newspaper is lawful activity and often used by industrial unions to advance the views and interests of their members.”

Ms Lennard offered a leak assessment of Mr Maundrell in her decision, describing the casino’s lawyer as being “defensive and argumentative” at a tribunal hearing.

She found Mr Maundrell had to have known when he sent the latter that Mr Kidman’s comments in the newspaper were accurate, and could therefore not be considered rumour or gossip.

Ms Lennard ordered Casino Canberra to pay Mr Kidman $4000 in damages and $4620 in legal costs.

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