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Employment Court win leaves fmr CHH mgr $30k out of pocket

Employment Court win leaves former CHH manager Rodkiss $30k out of pocket

By Paul McBeth

Sept. 4 (BusinessDesk) - David Rodkiss, a former Carter Holt Harvey engineering manager who successfully sued the wood products company in the Employment Court, has been left almost $30,000 out of pocket, an outcome the presiding judge called "unsatisfactory and of considerable concern".

In an Aug. 27 judgment in the Christchurch Employment Court, Judge Tony Ford awarded costs and disbursements of $149,500 in favour of Rodkiss, on top of the $51,258.85 in compensation and lost wages he won in a March ruling. The earlier decision asked the parties to try and reach an agreement on costs, something they weren't able to do, and required another decision by the judge, in which "the statistics relating to costs make for disturbing reading" as Rodkiss racked up a $230,313.61 legal bill.

"On those figures, he will still be left significantly out of pocket. I say at once that such an outcome is unsatisfactory and of considerable concern," Judge Ford said. "Mr Rodkiss, with justification, must be left wondering whether it has all been worthwhile."

The grievance sprang out of Carter Holt's disciplinary and performance management policies after Rodkiss, an engineering manager at the Eves Valley sawmill near Nelson overseeing about 30 staff, was unexpectedly put on notice about his performance in 2013.

Judge Ford ultimately found the process had numerous defects and resulted in Rodkiss being treated unfairly, saying the dispute's complexity "resulted from a sharp divergence of views over the relevance and application in practice of key parts of the defendant's disciplinary and performance management policies" in a "hard-fought" hearing, according to the March judgment.

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In the costs ruling, Judge Ford said the case didn't involve overly complex legal issues, but "did involve a particularly complex factual matrix" with much depending on the credibility of witnesses tested under cross-examination.

Throughout the process, Rodkiss made two offers to settle, both of which Carter Holt turned down. Judge Ford said it would be difficult to say Carter Holt was unreasonable in turning them down, though in hindsight, the company would have been "significantly better off" had it taken either.

"Calderbank offers can be powerful instruments and offerees ignore them at their peril," the judge said.

Rodkiss was awarded full costs of $11,718.50 claimed over Carter Holt's application to stay the proceedings when the company said it was concerned over the former manager's financial position. The judge accepted the submission that the stay was "completely devoid of merit and indicated an intention by the defendant to prolong the proceedings and increase costs for Mr Rodkiss."

The judgement closed with a reminder for employment lawyers of an Appeal Court ruling saying "those who practise in this field (where this case cannot be regarded as wholly exceptional) might well reflect on the consequences of conducting litigation without proper focus on the issues and without tight control on the escalation of costs."


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