Pilot who failed drug test and groped colleague loses unfair dismissal case

by Chloe Taylor04 Mar 2015
A former Qantas pilot who groped a colleague’s breasts while intoxicated has lost his unfair dismissal case.

Steven Gregory was dismissed by the airline in February 2014 after 20 years of employment, and eventually took his case to the Fair Work Commission.

He was the first officer on a flight between Sydney and Santiago on February 8 last year, alongside three other crew members, including one woman who remains anonymous.

Upon arrival, the Qantas employees stayed in a hotel for two nights before returning to Sydney.

On the second evening, the four crew members went together to a restaurant and a pub. Whilst at the pub, Gregory left the group for around half an hour.

When Gregory returned, his colleagues noticed a change in his behaviour. They alleged that he became rowdy and unintelligible, attempting to grope a young woman at the pub.

The other crew members told the FWC that Gregory’s behaviour made them uncomfortable, so they decided to take him back to their hotel.

In the taxi on the journey back, Gregory was alleged to have massaged the breast of his female colleague, despite her making efforts to turn away from him and move out of his reach.

The following morning, the captain of the flight decided to stand Gregory down.

Gregory was apologetic, and claimed that his drink had been spiked while he was away from the rest of the group.

When he arrived back in Australia, Gregory underwent a drugs test, and was found to have cannabinoids in his system. Following an investigation into the matter, he was dismissed by Qantas.

Although he maintained that his actions were a consequence of his drink being spiked, Commissioner Ian Cambridge found that he had not been victimised.

“The significantly more plausible proposition which is most strongly supported by the totality of the evidence is that the applicant separated from his colleagues as a deliberate act in the pursuit of imbibing cannabis, or a cannabis derivative, or some other substance,” said Cambridge. “Whatever may have been the precise reason for his elevated level of intoxication, the applicant took a decision which had clear risk attached to it. Unfortunately for the applicant that risk was realised and therefore personal culpability for his subsequent sexual harassment misconduct must follow.”

He also found that Gregory’s long-term impeccable employment record did not lessen the significance of his misconduct.

Patrizia Mercuri, partner in workplace relations and safety at Lander and Rogers, previously told HC that employers must investigate complaints such as these thoroughly to avoid being found guilty of unfair dismissal.

She outlined three key things employers should do when investigating claims of harassment at their workplace:
  1. Ensure that the person appointed to investigate the allegations has the appropriate skills and understands how to undertake a forensic analysis. 
  2. Ensure that an investigation plan is prepared at the outset, which clearly identifies the allegations, any witnesses and other evidence which may support or contradict the allegations.
  3. Ensure that all complaints are treated with an open mind - that is don't assume that because someone may be a poor performer or may currently be the subject of a performance management process, that there is therefore no basis to the allegations. 


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