A woman from Bell Island now living in Scotland is at the centre of a workplace harassment scandal that has gained international attention.
DeeAnn Fitzpatrick, a fisheries officer in Scrabster, alleges she suffered a decade of harassment after complaining about a sexist, racist workplace culture at Marine Scotland, but it was a photo of Fitzpatrick taped to a chair and with tape over her mouth that has prompted outcry.
The shocking photo was anonymously submitted to BBC reporter Mark Daly and published in a news story this week.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was “absolutely horrified” by the photo, and said she is ordering a review of Fitzpatrick’s case.
Fitzpatrick cannot speak publicly about her experiences because her case is before the Scottish Employment Tribunal, but her sister-in-law, Paradise resident Sherry Fitzpatrick, is speaking out on her behalf.
“When I seen the photo about six to seven weeks ago, I said this is going to stop,” Sherry said. “I convinced her to let me move forward with media.”
Sherry said the photo was taken 10 years ago, after her sister-in-law witnessed a male junior officer walk up behind a female colleague and attempt to punch her in the back of the head.
“The senior officer said, ‘Make sure it’s a good one when you hit her,’” said Sherry, who noted the man tried to hit the woman but missed. “Deanne was fairly new to the fisheries office and was very disturbed by what she heard and saw, and she reported it to her union.”
After an investigation, the two officers returned to work and one got a promotion.
Sherry said DeeAnn continued to speak up and that’s what led to the two men allegedly taping her to the chair and saying, “This is what happens to people who speak out against the boys.”
Sherry described the alleged incident: “Reid Anderson grabbed (DeeAnn) in a bear hug while she was in her chair in the office and Jody (Paske) took the tape and taped her up. Reid left the office, she told me, and Jody looked at DeeAnn’s face and realized that she was in distress and he was the one that untapped her. And she looked at him and said, ‘That was not acceptable and you should never have done that.’”
According to the BBC, Paske said the allegations are false and that “if it did happen it would have been office banter.”
Sherry said, “it’s not a joke,” and, “it’s very disturbing,” adding she believes there were several men who “preyed on her … getting joy out of it,” especially after DeeAnn had a miscarriage and after her mother and father died.
“We have lots of evidence of that and we’re hoping that this is going to come through the media very, very soon and there’s people who are going to lose their jobs, we hope.”
DeeAnn has not been back to work since her father died in 2016, and is facing a disciplinary hearing from her employers for being “overzealous” in her duties and rude to a client.
But Sherry said she thinks they were trying to push DeeAnn out because she was complaining.
A Labour member of the Scottish Parliament who has supported Fitzpatrick’s case for several years told the Canadian Press she’s “had nothing but a brick wall from the Scottish government.”
Rhoda Grant said she had previously asked Sturgeon to take action, adding the case had been covered in Scottish media before the photo surfaced this week.
“It is a shame it took a shocking photo having to be revealed before they were willing to listen and take action.”
Meanwhile, Sherry Fitzpatrick said DeeAnn has a lawyer and they’re giving the Scottish government a few days to take action so she can “have her dignity back and get her life back.”
“Our hope is that this comes to an end very, very soon, and I hope (Sturgeon is) the one that’s going to do it because obviously there’s something wrong with the system.”
But Sherry said if there’s no response from the government by early next week, “we will be putting pressure on them.”
Sherry said it’s been hard on the entire family, but it’s always been about getting her sister-in-law back to doing the work she loves.
With files from The Canadian Press