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Woman rejected from job because her mum worked in the same team wins $10k

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Affrica Morgan was rejected from a role at the Public Services Commission because her mum worked in the same team. Photo / LinkedIn

A woman who was rejected from a job at a government agency because her mother worked in the same team has won $10,000 in compensation.

Affrica Morgan was verbally offered a position at the Public Service Commission in 2020 but when they found out her mum already worked there they rescinded the offer on the grounds that it would be a conflict of interest.

Morgan then sued the agency for $145,000 in lost wages, $40,000 for loss of dignity and to be employed in the role she applied for.

However, in a decision released today the Human Rights Review Tribunal only awarded her $10,000 but also ruled that the Public Services Commission had breached the Human Rights Act by unlawfully discriminating against her.

“I was just disappointed how much money they spent fighting me when they knew they were in the wrong,” Morgan told Open Justice today.

“It’s a win for me I suppose, but it’s really just a slap on the wrist for them.”

Morgan applied for the role shortly before the first Covid lockdown in February 2020.

She was told she was the preferred candidate and verbally offered a role as an assistant adviser in the employment relations team at the Public Services Commission (now called Te Hawa Mataaho).

During her interviews she did not disclose that her mother worked in the same team she was applying for as she felt that it was not relevant.

After the agency found out the two were related they attempted to find a workaround but concluded that the organisation was too small and even a perceived conflict of interest wouldn’t be a good look.

Morgan, who represented herself at the hearing in June this year, argued that there were no reporting lines between her and her mother and they would both behave professionally.

The Commission maintained that any conflict of interest whether it was real or simply perceived went against its policies.

As part of their evidence they said that the role involved making operational decisions and there could be a perception that Morgan would prioritise her mother’s work over other team members.

Morgan is now unable to work since being diagnosed with fibromyalgia and wouldn’t be able to do the job at the Commission she’d wanted so badly.

She said that even in hindsight she wouldn’t have disclosed that her mother worked in the same team as she didn’t think it was relevant.

As for why she went through two years of civil court, she said she didn’t want the Commission to get away with discriminating against her.

“It had come after months and months of applying for jobs,” she said.

“The court case was pretty rough for my mum. She felt like it was her fault I didn’t get the job but it really wasn’t.”

The Tribunal found that a perception of favouritism didn’t automatically equate to collusion that would have been detrimental to the Commission.

“Were Ms Morgan to be employed in a more senior role, we might have been able to reach a different view,” it said in its decision.

However, it couldn’t reconcile Morgan’s $145,000 claim of two years’ lost wages and said there wasn’t enough evidence to award the $40,000 in loss of dignity and humiliation she was seeking.

Duane McKibben, Deputy Commissioner Organisational Capability and Performance at the Public Services Commission said the organisation takes conflict of interest issues very seriously.

“However, we accept the tribunal’s decision that we didn’t get it right for this person who had applied for a job at the Commission.” he said.

“We are taking time to consider the tribunal’s decision and the possible wider implications.”

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