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Ashton Pound ordered to pay €18,000 to animal cruelty whistle-blower

The Workplace Relations Commission adjudicator has ordered David and Carol Stone, the owners of Ashton Dog Pound, to pay €18,000 to Conor Williamson, a whistle-blower who reported his concerns regarding the pound to the police.

The adjudicator found that Williamson had been penalised for “having made a protected disclosure with regard to animal welfare and veterinary pharmaceutical offences.” Williamson went to the police in July of 2020 after a number of dogs in the pounds were killed by staff improperly using a controlled veterinary drug – the disclosure Williamson made led to Ashton Pound being raided by police, and the bringing of criminal charges against a number of individuals associated with the pound.

The adjudicator noted that Williamson had made two protected disclosures in relation to the matter – one directly to his employer, followed “some days later” by a disclosure to the police “when his email garnered no response from his employer on the serious issues raised.”

Williamson told the WRC that, after he made his disclosure to the police, he had been threatened by staff at Ashton; his work van was searched without him being present; he was not paid sick pay “as per his contract of employment;” and that he was told his contract had been “mislaid” when he requested a copy.

In December of 2020 Williamson was given a final written warning after he was investigated for “refusing to do on-call” work and “social media comments” he was alleged to have made.

The adjudicator found that the investigation and disciplinary process was flawed and retaliation “for the earlier reporting of animal abuse and veterinary practices to his employer and to the Gardai.”

In February of 2021 Williamson was offered a severance agreement. The WRC said it was “noteworthy” that the whistle-blower was offered “a severance deal with a non-disclosure agreement attaching to it….in an effort to exit the complainant out of the organisation”

Williamson refused to accept the deal, and, in March of 2021, he was suspended after six other members of Ashton’s staff alleged that he had bullied and harassed them. In the course of the investigation into these allegations Williamson was “docked a day’s pay as he could not attend the meeting as he was in attendance at this(sic) grandmother’s funeral.”

The WRC adjudicator stated that the allegations were, in their view, “contrived” and that they had “the hallmarks of an orchestrated campaign by management to intimidate and bully the complainant.” The WRC adjudicator added “It would appear to me that the statements had been rehearsed and I note that a number of these same staff retracted their statements shortly after making them.” The adjudicator added that they believed that Williamson’s suspension was “a form of penalisation” for having made the protected disclosures.

The adjudicator found that both the suspension and the earlier disciplinary process constituted retaliation for the making of a protected disclosure, and that Ashton Dog Pound had breached the Protected Disclosures Act.

Ashton Pound is expected to appeal the decision.

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