2 Apr 2014

Snowdon case may cost RNZ over $1.5m

3:02 pm on 2 April 2014

Defending court action taken by Radio New Zealand's former managing editor may end up costing the company more than $1.5 million.

Lynne Snowdon accused the public broadcaster of unjustifiable dismissal and fraud. The case was one of the country's longest-running employment disputes, beginning in late 2002.

In a decision released on Tuesday, Employment Court judge Anthony Ford dismissed all Ms Snowdon's claims and awarded Radio New Zealand costs. The judge said there was not a scintilla of evidence in support of a single claim of fraud.

A spokesperson for Radio New Zealand said on Wednesday the company first offered to settle the case in 2003 and since then has always been open to settling the matter on reasonable terms.

However, he said all the broadcaster's offers were rejected by Ms Snowdon and responded to with claims for millions of dollars in settlement.

Radio New Zealand chief executive Paul Thompson said on Wednesday the court's decision has vindicated the company's treatment of Ms Snowdon and lifted aspersions cast on senior staff.

Part of Ms Snowdon's claim suggested that senior staff had mismanaged New Zealand on Air funds or fraudulently disposed of them.

Mr Thompson said Judge Ford's refutation of those claims is probably the most important part of the ruling. A lot of mud was thrown at Radio New Zealand staff and board members, he said, and "it's just really great that those aspersions have been lifted in a very clear judgement".

Mr Thompson said hundreds of thousands of dollars of Radio New Zealand's public funding has been spent on the case - money that could have been spent on programmes and other areas - and the company will be looking at recovering some of those costs.

If the parties cannot mutually agree on costs, then submissions have to be filed with the court.

An employment law specialist said he is surprised the case dragged on for more than 10 years.

Judge Ford said that in May 2013, Lynne Snowdon's husband said her costs had exceeded $3 million.

Peter Churchman, QC, said that if that figure is correct, it is extraordinary that lawyers would allow costs to reach that level. He said it would be a large sum for any case, let alone an employment case.

One of Ms Snowdon's lawyers, Richard Fletcher, has declined to say whether they will seek to take the case to the Court of Appeal.