A lawyer has lost his unlawful dismissal case after being sacked for criticising a client of his firm – the ADF.
However, the Federal Court found his employer had a right to sack him, because he refused to follow a lawful direction.
Lawyer sacked for criticising a client
Lawyer Doctor Gary Rumble led a government-commissioned review in 2011-12 into historical sexual and physical abuse in the Defence Forces.
When the government subsequently failed to take sufficient action to help the victims, Rumble grew increasingly frustrated.
So in 2016, he wrote an opinion piece in The Canberra Times detailing the abuse suffered by boys as young as 13.
In the article, Rumble criticised the government:
“It is a continuing disgrace that some of these victims are not receiving veterans’ benefits to which they are entitled.”
ADF is a key client
The article infuriated Rumble’s law firm because the ADF is one of its key clients.
Additionally, the firm implemented an internal policy in 2014 banning employees from criticising clients without the permission of a manager.
The firm barred Rumble from the office Christmas party and sacked him by email a short time later.
Unlawful dismissal and discrimination
He subsequently filed a claim in the Federal Court for unlawful dismissal and discrimination on the basis of political opinion.
However, the court sided with his employer, finding Rumble had failed to follow a lawful direction.
The judge said Rumble failed to follow management directions not to criticise a client of the firm, regardless of how well founded his criticism of the ADF might have been.
“There was nothing therefore unlawful in the firm’s dismissal of Dr Rumble because he refused to cease criticising the firm’s client.”
The court also found Rumble worked as a casual and his employment contract allowed for either side to terminate the contract with three months notice.
As it turns out, the firm paid Rumble the three month notice period, so consequently, he had no legal argument on that basis.
Always get legal advice
Industrial advocate Miles Heffernan says the case is a reminder to always seek expert advice before acting.
“Even if you think you are doing the right thing, and with good reason, it is always best to get legal advice before you act,” he said.
“While I sympathise with Dr Rumble’s position, he should have checked with his manager before publishing his article, as the firm’s policy required him to do.”
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