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UPDATED: Radio NZ estimates Lynne Snowdon case cost it $1.5 million

UPDATED: Radio NZ estimates the cost of defending allegations made by its former news editor Lynne Snowdon in a long-running employment case may exceed $1.5 million. 

The state broadcaster is entitled to costs following Judge Anthony Ford's decision in the Employment Court to dismiss all of the former managing editor’s claims including allegations of fraud and unjustifiable dismissal.

Radio NZ spokesman John Barr said in a statement the broadcaster did not initiate the court action and has always been open to a settlement on reasonable terms.   

He says in 2003 Radio NZ, through its lawyer Michael Quigg, had offered to settle the dispute for a monetary sum plus entitlements.

Ms Snowdon rejected the offer and accused Radio NZ of attempting to obstruct the course of an investigation. She referred the matter to the police, who rejected this allegation.  

Mr Barr says Radio NZ later made other offers to settle but these were also rejected and responded to with claims for "extortionate" sums in settlement, in some cases amounting to many millions of dollars.

EARLIER:

Ms Snowdon went to the Employment Court accusing the public broadcaster of unjustifiable dismissal and fraud but Judge Anthony Ford dismissed all the claims.

After a hearing lasting 47 sitting days, the court ruled Ms Snowdon was principally responsible for the breakdown in her employment relationship.

Ms Snowdon can still appeal the case. Her lawyer, Colin Curruthers QC, was unavailable for comment today.

Judge Ford awarded Radio NZ costs, which MinterEllisonRuddWatts partner Megan Richards says could easily run into the millions given Ms Snowdon’s evidence and the duration of the trial.

She says given Ms Snowdon has already claimed legal fees have cost her over $3.5 million, the costs award to Radio NZ would likely be the biggest costs decision ever made.

In 2006, Radio NZ revealed it had already spent $411,000 on the case, which had been running since 2002. 

Ms Richards described the length of the trial as extraordinary as Ms Snowdon had taken every procedural option open to her, including attempting to recuse an earlier judge, Judge Coral Shaw. She says Radio NZ’s lawyer Michael Quigg would have spent a large period of time each year working on the case .

Radio NZ may also be entitled to the costs of forensic experts such as John Fisk and Rob Buchanan who investigated the claims Ms Snowdon made.

Ms Snowdon had already paid $240,000 security for costs in November last year to get the case heard in the Employment Court. 

But as well as the litigation costs Ms Richards says an employee trying to take on such claims would need to think about the rest of their careers.

“A lesson for employees taking these claims is to think through the consequences because it is a public process – if you don’t settle this, there will be judgments.”

Ms Snowdon had made matters worse by going to the National Business Review and leaking information about the case.

Ms Richards says any potential employer would weigh up the claims Ms Snowdon had make and rethink taking her on.

Ms Snowdon still has a pending High Courtcase against Radio NZ and  former Radio NZ chief executive Sharon Crosbie for $1.45 million,  and Deloitte for $1.2 million.

That case had been put on hold pending the Employment Court decision.

vyoung@nbr.co.nz

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RAW DATA: Judgment (PDF)8.17 MB

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Comments and questions
6

But always remember Radio NZ's costs are public money, not coming out of any private individual's pocket at Radio NZ but out all of taxpayer's pockets. It is easy to defend a claim at every level when you do not have your own money on the line - taxpayers' money is simply bottomless. And Radio NZ will never recover all of we taxpayer's costs. The relevant question to ask here is why did Radio NZ not settle this claim way before now, and at least save some public money?

Hi Mark,

Reading the case, it is clear Radio NZ attempted mediation to salvage the relationship several times, and former chief executive Peter Cavanagh who replaced Sharon Crosbie in 2003 was clear about looking at the case with fresh eyes. He described the mediation process as a "wholly unsatisfactory experience" - looking at his evidence and reading between the a bit lines it appears to me he felt Ms Snowdon was asking for too much. But I have asked Radio NZ to comment on this.

I have uploaded the judgment for you to look at.
Thanks

Let's just settle the claim in the future and save everyone a lot of wasted time and money!!!
Seriously...
The only winners are in the legal profession...

The point is that there was never anything to dispute and nothing to settle. If there is any fault, it lies with a Court system that allows such cases to proceed. This is money well-spent if it causes others, from those with absurd claims to people with vexatious tendencies, to see the consequences of pursuing follies.

Crikey. Employment law is a contradiction in terms.

You either get on with your boss or you don't.

In most cases, it's only worth taking it as far as court if you're dead cert you never want (or need) to work in that industry or town ever again.

The best dispute strategy is a new job.

Pride comes before the fall. Snowmen had nothing to legally argue , she was pursuing a case of face saving, but no one will employ her now.