Conspiracy theory fan wins $20,000 workplace discrimination payout

by The_In-Betweener

Hear that guys, speak up a little louder at work and maybe someone will rat you out to your manager, in which case you could get a nice chunk of change. It’s nice to know people are looking out for your mental health ; )

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Because you could be a McVeigh level conspiracy theorist!

Forget about the conspiracy theorists that run our governments and massacre millions!

The New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal upheld a complaint against the Department of Family and Community Services, which was found to have discriminated against Jennifer Stefanac “on the ground of assumed mental illness”.

NCAT ordered the Department to pay Ms Stefanac for “pain and suffering”.

The incident occurred in June 2016 after two co-workers raised concerns with Ms Stefanac’s manager over conversations in which she “talked animatedly about various conspiracy theories”.

“Have you heard about the meteorite that is going to hit the earth in November? It’s a big conspiracy, it will hit the earth and all the world leaders know about it,” she allegedly said to a colleague on tea break.

The other employee gave evidence that Ms Stefanac made a number of statements about various conspiracy theories she was “into”. “I believe the Pope of the Catholic Church is a Jesuit,” she allegedly said. (Pope Francis is, in fact, a Jesuit.)

“There is a planet — something 44 — that is coming close to earth and it will cause a polar shift. There is a Large Hadron Collider and in Scandinavia it was switched on the other day resulting in shutting down the atmosphere.

“There is a government conspiracy to hide this information from us. Some people question whether the earth is flat. I believe some stories about aliens being fallen angels.

“These fallen angels were kicked out of heaven and some are buried in the Earth’s core, some are walking around on earth and are here to make us confused.

“Fallen angels came to earth and bred with humans and that created giants and some of these are between 12 and 30-feet tall and there is proof of this. This happened after a flood.”

The co-worker said she was very concerned by the comments, which gave her the “strong impression” that Ms Stefanac was “somewhat disturbed” and led her to question whether she should be working with vulnerable children and families.

On June 2, Ms Stefanac’s manager Megan Beckett sent her an email saying she had been “informed of recent conversations you have had with other staff within the CSC and based on these conversations I have concerns about your wellbeing”.

“To ensure the agency’s duty of care to yourself, other employees and clients is upheld, I am directing you on sick leave, effective immediately,” she said.

Ms Stefanac was told she could not return to work until cleared by a doctor. In a letter later that month, her GP said she was “fit to resume to her usual duties”.

“She stated that all the topics she was discussing were related to her leisure time reading and topics of interest she found in the internet,” he wrote. “She denied any strong beliefs attached to the topics of discussion.”

Ms Stefanac denied making some of the statements, including about the earth being flat, saying she was “into conspiracy theories” or that there was a planet coming close to earth that would cause a polar shift. She agreed she referred to “biblical stuff”.

She provided NCAT with “a copy of extracts from a website about the book of Genesis, Chapter 6 and from a website about CERN (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research) that operates a particle physics laboratory in Geneva”.

She denied that she said that the hadron collider was in Scandinavia.

NCAT Deputy President Nancy Hennessy and General Member Dr Jane Goodman-Delahunty said they were “satisfied” that Ms Stefanac had the conversations as reported by her co-workers.

“The only qualification to this finding is that she did not say that the hadron collider was in Scandinavia,” they said. “We accept that she said it was in Switzerland or France.”

The panel said while it was “not strictly necessary for us to decide whether Ms Stefanac did in fact have a mental illness”, it had “chosen to make that finding because it affects the application of the differential treatment test”.

“Based on the assessment of Ms Stefanac conducted by Dr Samarasinghe, which we did not understand the Department to be challenging, we find that the discussion of conspiracy theories was not symptomatic of any mental illness,” they said.

The Department argued that any employee who had the same conversation about conspiracy theories would have received the same treatment “regardless of any concerns about their mental health”.

NCAT said “with respect, that reasoning is not logical”, as “inevitably Ms Beckett would have assumed that another employee who had animated conversations about conspiracy theories would also have had a mental illness”.

“We are satisfied that one of the true or genuine bases or the real reason for making the direction was that, based on the conspiracy theory conversations, Ms Beckett thought Ms Stefanac had a mental illness,” they wrote.

“The Department submitted, without a great deal of conviction, that the direction cannot be regarded as subjecting Ms Stefanac to a detriment because she did not suffer any financial loss and the treatment was trivial.

“In our view a reasonable person would consider that directing a person to leave work on sick leave and not to return until a medical clearance has been given, constitutes a substantial disadvantage. There is no need to prove financial loss.

“In this case, at a minimum, it resulted in an injury to Ms Stefanac’s feelings.”


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