Blue goes public with concerns over Sutton case

Former National MP goes on front foot against Rennie.

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue has gone public with concerns about how the Roger Sutton sexual harassment case has been handled.

The ex-National MP has used an open letter to State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie and follow-up comments to media to question the processes used by CERA and the SCC. Dr Blue says the public vilification of the woman who made the allegations could have "a chilling effect on future complaints."

She questioned why Mr Sutton was allowed to go public.

"We’ve heard one side of the story, or one side has minimised the issue," Ms Blue told media.

"Where’s the woman’s voice in this? What sort of support is she getting? And what’s it going to do for people who are thinking about complaining who are concerned they may be undergoing sexual harassment in the workplace."

In her open letter, Dr Blue  wrote, "I simply do not understand why the confidential complaint and mediation processes in the Employment Relations Act or Human Rights Act were not used ... I would like to meet with you to understand why the approach that has been taken in this case and to explore how a similar situation could be handled differently in the future."

Mr Rennie has been criticised from a number of quarters for organising a Monday afternoon joint press conference with Mr Sutton. The SSC boss refused to comment in detail at the press conference, citing confidentiality clauses and legal constraints; Mr Sutton gave his side of the story, stating the complaint revolved around light-hearted "jokes and hugs."

Public Service Association national secretary Erin Polaczuk criticised Mr Rennie this morning for organising the press conference, and allowing information into the public domain that the victim was not able to respond to (although through an ally, the complainant did get additional information about Mr Sutton's alleged behaviour into the media).

Ms Polaczuk also had sharp words for Mr Sutton.

"He was in a chief executive role, and his behaviour is going to be picked up by everyone in the hierarchy below him," she told TVNZ this morning.

The Minister in charge of the State Services Commission, Paula Bennett, says she still has confidence in Mr Rennie.

Mr Sutton, who had been due to depart CERA's office in January, was sent on gardening leave yesterday. Former CERA boss John Ombler was named the organisation's acting CEO.

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