Nurse fired over anti-vax posts denied another appeal

5:17 pm on 11 June 2024
Wairarapa Hospital in Masterton was the former District Health Board headquarters.

Wairarapa Hospital in Masterton, the former District Health Board headquarters. Photo: Wairarapa Times Age

A former Wairarapa District Health Board (DHB) nurse who was dismissed for posting "anti-vaccine information on Facebook" won't be allowed to take her case to the Court of Appeal.

Amanda Turner was previously employed by the DHB as a registered palliative care nurse working in the community from May 2015 until she was dismissed in April 2021.

The dismissal followed an investigation by the DHB into various Facebook posts made by Turner which the DHB said had breached its Code of Conduct and the Nursing Council of New Zealand's Code of Conduct.

In 2022, Turner lost a challenge to the Employment Relations Authority.

She then lost her challenge in the Employment Court last year and sought to appeal this decision.

However, a recent Court of Appeal judgement stated this application has been denied and "leave to appeal should not be granted".

As a result, she may need to pay $20,000 to Te Whatu Ora after unsuccessfully challenging her dismissal in the Employment Court.

In the Court of Appeal decision, which was released this month, Justices Edwin Wylie and Mark Cooper stated they "do not consider there is a plausible argument that the Employment Court's approach was wrong".

"The relevant actions of the DHB in this case were not subject to Section 3b of the Bill of Rights Act," their decision stated.

"Accepting Ms Turner's argument would mean a public service employer could not discipline members of staff claiming the right to express opinions directly contrary to the employer's policies and critical of racial or ethnic groups."

The judges also said Turner had submitted that she was discriminated against on the basis of her political beliefs.

"It is clear that it would have been unlawful for the DHB to terminate Ms Turner's employment on the basis that she was a Christian [or held any other religious belief] or on the basis of that she held or expressed political opinions."

However, the Employment Court rejected Turner's claim she had been dismissed because of her religious beliefs.

"Ms Turner's employment was not terminated because of any political opinions, but because her posts were directly contrary to the position being taken by the DHB at the time."

The Employment Court decision from last year said vaccination against Covid-19 was being promoted by health agencies and that Turner's posts had the "potential to undermine the trust and confidence of the public in the DHB, which is inconsistent with the social media policy and with Ms Turner's obligations to her employer".

Last year's Employment Court judgement said Turner's Facebook posts had caused staff at the aged residential care facility to question whether they should be vaccinated against Covid-19.

"The posts were not considered or balanced discussions but involved memes and strongly worded statements or allegations against individuals and groups," the judgement said.

At the time of her posts, Turner had 86 Facebook friends.

The Wairarapa DHB, now Te Whatu Ora, was Turner's employer and was governed by a board that consisted of elected members.

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