A potentially ground breaking case bought by whistleblower Alison McDermott, a former consultant to the nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield, began a three week hearing at Leeds Employment Tribunal this week.
The case of McDermott versus Sellafield, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and former Sellafield HR director Heather Roberts has been brought under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 – also known as the Whistleblowers’ Act.
Alison McDermott, an HR professional and diversity specialist, claims that the sudden termination of her freelance contract in October 2018 by Sellafield was linked to her protected disclosures containing evidence of systemic bullying, and racist and sexist incidents at the Sellafield site in Cumbria. The original story was reported in Byline Times
Since the report came out the BBC did an investigation into what it called toxic bullying, homophobia, sexual harassment and racism at the nuclear plant.
At the beginning of hearing Employment judge Philip Lancaster told the tribunal: “This, of course, is not a public inquiry into an alleged toxic culture at Sellafield and it is certainly not a forum to investigate specific allegations of improper behaviour on behalf of named individuals.”
The case has been complicated by one of the organisations fighting her, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, changing its stance and is distancing itself from Sellafield. More will come out later in the case.
Ms McDermott faced aggressive cross questioning of her stance by Deshpal Panesar QC, representing Sellafield and Ms Heather Roberts, the plant’s former human resources director.
” I hope you’re not going to tell me we’re going to start letting women in burkas in here”- HR director
Ms McDermott was paid £1,500 a day – the same sum paid to previous consultants Capita -to monitor equality, diversity and inclusion at the nuclear fuel reprocessing and decommissioning site in September 2018.
Mr Panesar pointed out that she had taken no action when she first met Heather Roberts who is said to have told her “”I hope you’re not going to tell me we’re going to start letting women in burkas in here.” He said this was a reference by Ms Roberts because of security at the plant where people had to have photo passes. She said she was horrified by the reference but did not raise it with her because it was their first meeting.
Yet later after she had investigated other complaints she had pressed for a formal inquiry into a series of complaints and allegations about bullying, homophobia and sexual harassment. He accused her of ” weaponising” the issue at the plant.
Ms McDermott denied this,
She said Ms Roberts then asked her to take part in a covert investigation to “flush out” issues raised in the report, but she refused and advised her there needed to be a formal investigation.
Mr Panesar suggested she had agreed to take part in an undercover investigation, using focus groups to question staff.
The case continues next week.