A Limerick vet is challenging a “savage” decision to remove him from all temporary inspector panels after he wore a Donald Trump mask while working at a meat plant.
Dr Declan Gill wore the mask the day after the US presidential election “as a joke” and gave “a fist pump gesture a la Donald Trump” to a human resources manager there, his counsel Peter Ward SC told the High Court.
Following a complaint from the meat plant to the Department of Agriculture over the incident, a departmental decision group removed Dr Gill in February 2017 with immediate effect from temporary veterinary inspector panels, work from which he derives 70% of his income, counsel said.
This was a “savage sanction” and an unlawful decision made in breach of his right to fair procedures and without his having had an oral hearing, he said.
David Hardiman SC, for the Department, argued Dr Gill was alerted to the Department's concerns in a letter sent by it to him a week after the November 9, 2016, mask incident and given an opportunity to make submissions.
The department's concerns included that of inappropriate and unprofessional attire and behaviour and of not fulfilling his contract in a professional manner, he said.
A "jest" is subjective and this “jest” was in the presence of the plant’s human resources manager, Tony Delaney, with whom Dr Gill had said he had a past “history of difficulties”, counsel said.
Mr Delaney had claimed Dr Gill approached him with the Trump mask on, made a closed fist gesture and said: “You’re dead”, leaving him feeling intimidated.
Dr Gill denied it was a closed fist gesture and the decision group had said it was not possible for them to assess whether there was a "threat event" and had not considered that aspect in reaching its decision.
The group's decision that Dr Gill’s behaviour was inappropriate and unprofessional and clearly planned to cause disruption was not unreasonable, irrational or disproportionate and he had made written submissions prior to the decision, he said.
Ms Justice Tara Burns is hearing proceedings by Dr Gill, Newgarden, Castleconnell, Co Limerick, over the February 20, 2017, decision removing him from all temporary veterinary panels which oversee slaughter of animals at meat plants.
That arose from an incident on November 9, 2016, when Dr Gill went to work at the Rosderra Irish Meats plant in Roscrea, Co Tipperary, where he was a temporary inspector since 1998.
He was wearing a Donald Trump mask and claims, when he met Mr Delaney, he gave him the Trump “fist pump” gesture in a joking manner.
In his judicial review, Dr Gill claims he was not afforded fair procedures by the Department particularly when his main income derives from being a veterinary inspector. There was no issue when he wore a Barack Obama mask in the plant eight years earlier and neither the safety of Mr Delaney nor others was at risk, he said.
Dr Gill has also claimed, arising from a number of matters over several years at Rosderra Meats, Mr Delaney and others did not wish him rostered as an inspector there.
In submissions today, Mr Ward said the Department has been “adamant” Dr Gill was a contractor, not their employee, and raised issues about his getting income from other sources.
Dr Gill’s evidence, including from his accountant, was that 70% of his income derived from his inspection duties.
Dr Gill wore the mask as a joke in the workplace and the department's response was disproportionate and unreasonable, he said. Many workers, even in serious positions such as surgeons, share a joke and “light moments” at work.
A decision the mask was inappropriate or a joke that went “too far” required some inquiry.
The view the incident compromised food hygiene and health and safety was also unreasonable and disproportionate.
Beginning his arguments, Mr Hardiman said Dr Gill deliberately put on a mask, deliberately went into the plant and “at least made a fist gesture” to the personnel manager.
Such behaviour, to say the least, was "unhelpful in a factory environment" which Dr Gill, with others, was policing for the Department.
This was not a "tea break or locker room" practical joke and it appeared Dr Gill played it before an "exactly chosen wrong person" with whom he had had differences, he said.
The hearing continues.