Finally an end

April 2nd, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Former Radio NZ news manager has lost her marathon employment dispute with the state broadcaster.

In a decision issued today the Employment Court has scored the legal battle – believed to be the longest running employment dispute – at 3-0 to Radio NZ.

Judge Tony Ford said it was a rare case where Radio NZ had been able to establish on “entirely convincing facts” that Snowdon was substantially responsible for the irreconcilable breakdown in the employment relationship.

Snowdon went on sick leave in January 2003. She was dismissed in April 2005.

It’s insane that this case has dragged on for ten years. Hopefully this brings it to an end. I’ve followed the case for many years and had little doubt it would end this way.

Judge Tony Ford dismissed grounds claiming Snowdon had a disadvantage grievance, was unjustifiably dismissed, and that Radio NZ had falsely represented the financial situation at the heart of Snowdon’s complaints.

He said it had been a relatively straightforward employment dispute that had spiralled out of control.

Snowdon’s husband, John Hickling, told the court last year that it had cost Snowdon and her family more than $3.5 million to fight at that stage.

Snowdon let her grievance become an obsession. Off memory it all began as a dispute with then CEO Sharon Crosbie over the budget for the news division. If you don’t like the budget your boss gives you, then go find a new job – don’t turn it into a ten year dispute. If they really have spent $3.5 million on the fight, then that is even sadder, No one forced them to do so.

Since then the case has consumed another 47-day hearing.

Again, insane.

The judge said Radio NZ was entitled to costs and if the parties could not agree between themselves they would be decided by the court.

As a taxpayer, I want them to recover as many of their costs as possible.

29 Responses to “Finally an end”

  1. David Garrett (10,969 comments) says:

    This is very sad…truly a case where there are no winners. And I would bet a penny to a pound of that it’s NOT the end…Snowdon still has the Court of Appeal and (if leave if granted) the Supreme Court to go to…It is hard to see her giving up a 10 year obsession now…

    By the by, Judge Tony Ford is an excellent Judge…former Chief Justice of Tonga.

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  2. metcalph (1,515 comments) says:

    Where is the Judgment? I just want to see the sheer insanity of Snowdon’s crusade.

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  3. lazza (612 comments) says:

    Insane or not, (it was! IMHO) … it nevertheless happened.

    Surely we have some “filters” to stop these shenanigans in their tracks.

    Who, (there will be quite a few! of em)… in “The Lord’s Name” within the system allowed this case to run so far off the rails?

    Says something about the absense of process, timetables, budgets and normal checks and balances within our legal system … does it not.

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  4. backster (2,507 comments) says:

    D.G………..No Winners?”…………….What about the lawyers mate, bread,butter and cream.

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  5. David Garrett (10,969 comments) says:

    backster: Yes, you are quite correct…But any lawyer with even the dimmest understanding of ethics would have told her long ago that the only sure winner out of her crusade would be him (or her)…I seem to remember Snowdon going through a couple of lawyers…usually a sure sign of the phenomenon known as “the client who will not be advised”…aka “I don’t like your advice, so I am going to get some that I do like from someone else.”

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  6. peterwn (4,281 comments) says:

    AFAIK her husband is a lawyer and was actively involved in the case.

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  7. Peter (2,093 comments) says:

    $3.5 million.

    Be very wary of fighting anyone with significantly deeper pockets than you. It doesn’t matter how right you are, the lawyers always win.

    Not saying she was right, of course. The court decision sounds very sensible.

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  8. dime (12,985 comments) says:

    she sounds.. unwell

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  9. duggledog (2,357 comments) says:

    No it’s not sad, it’s ridiculous. You don’t want people like this working for you, but then this is the sort of place it is – full of Labour and Green supporters who are, by their very nature unrealistic and vengeful, and do not know what side of their bread is buttered.

    Roll on Coleman’s idea that RNZ should at least carry sponsorship – the place would go into complete meltdown (brilliant leading up to the Election).

    Newstalk ZB continues to rate around the same numbers, using a fraction of the staff and resources. And they carry wall to wall advertising. Just sayin’

    Problem now for Snowdon is her career in radio is potentially f***ed. She can’t go back to the place where it is impossible to get fired, and nobody will want her in the private sector.

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  10. Sponge (746 comments) says:

    Sharon Crosbie? Now there is a name I haven’t heard in years. This case must be going back a while!

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  11. David Garrett (10,969 comments) says:

    Duggle: “…they carry wall to wall advertising”…That is one of the main reasons I listen to Radio NZ…I do not wish to be bombarded with ads for discount tyres, laptop computers and God know’s what else…

    As for Ms Snowdon, her career was toast when she first began this doomed action…probably one of the reasons she continued with it against all odds…

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  12. Peter (2,093 comments) says:

    I wouldn’t mind paying for an ad-free National radio network, but I can’t listen to the present one as it sounds like a wall-to-wall Green Party political broadcast. Agree with DG about the wall-to-wall advertising on other stations, which means I don’t listen to the radio at all.

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  13. davidp (3,864 comments) says:

    Some details from

    “There was also unrest in the RNZ newsroom. Morale was low and journalists were watching their colleagues go off to earn twice as much in television, or to work in public relations. She agreed that RNZ journalists had a distinct culture of their own – “bolshie would be one word”. The workplace was highly unionised and salaries were largely determined by a grading structure agreed with the union.”

    What a bunch of losers. They unionise themselves and arrange a bunch of awards that don’t reflect merit, and then they moan that they’re underpaid. Just like teachers.

    Another source suggests Snowdon was being paid just over $90k for a senior management job. Even back in the 90s that wasn’t a lot of money. So these journalists were all revelling in their socialist misery. I have no sympathy for any of them.

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  14. prosper (213 comments) says:

    The problem is with employment law and the mediation, usually ex union officials. It is almost impossible for an employer to win as the process that needs to be followed is extremely complex and subjective. Most mediators find in favour of the employee and the employer is fined between $5000 and $10000 and has to write a reference .The employer pays as the cost of going to court is $40000 up with no guarantee of winning.
    The employment law needs to be rewritten and the judge’s need to throw frivolous and or vindictive cases out before they start.

    In my view there is now no need for unions as employment law is doing their job.

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  15. Rex Widerstrom (5,113 comments) says:

    David Garrett says:

    I do not wish to be bombarded with ads for discount tyres, laptop computers and God know’s what else…

    Nor do I, especially when they lack any creativity, humour or even variation, and all consist of SHOUTING AT YOU about the product or business’s supposed finer points. And when they capture my attention by finally saying “…and now the weather…” and proceed to lose it by saying “…brought to you by…” so that by the time they get to the pertinent information, I’ve mentally tuned out.

    Having now been back in NZ several weeks, I find I’m yearning for ABC TV. Proper current affairs at 7.30 and 10.30, leavened with humour from John (Fred Dagg) Clarke – so it’s actually funny – not vacuous, personality-driven “news lite”. And best of all, no ads, other than for their own upcoming shows.

    It remains to be seen how they’ll hold up now the BBC has ended its 50-year contract to supply programs from mid-2014, however.

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  16. mikenmild (23,531 comments) says:

    If there is no longer a need for unions then I imagine people will stop joining them.

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  17. prosper (213 comments) says:

    mikenmild. A lot of workers have. Union membership is much lower now than in the 70,s

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  18. Nookin (4,570 comments) says:

    Unfortunately, you have a somewhat confused approach to the law and the hierarchy of officials dealing with any claim based on a personal grievance.

    First and foremost, a mediator does not make a decision. A good mediator will not form a view (or if he/she does, will not make it evident) and will most certainly not make a declaration in front of the parties as to the rights or wrongs of the case.

    The mediator may well take a party aside and give that party a reality check but that is as far as it goes. This would ordinarily take place in caucus (private meeting) where the other party is not present.

    I have yet to come across an employment mediator who is an ex-union official although I do not rule out the possibility that there are some.

    The outcome of mediation must be consensual. Although mediation is usually a precondition to any hearing before the ERA, a grievance is only put to bed if both parties agree upon the terms of settlement.

    If the parties do not resolve issues at mediation, and the aggrieved party wishes to pursue the matter, an adjudicator in the Employment Relations Authority makes a determination. Like every area of human activity, there will be good ones and not so good ones. There will be adjudicators whose personal outlook may be influenced by their upbringing and past experiences in life. That is totally unavoidable unless you get adjudications by computer decision.

    While it is commonplace for employers to cry foul, my own experience indicates that many grievances are totally unnecessary and arise simply because an employer fails to follow some very basic rules.

    A judge does not get to look at the matter unless there is an appeal. There is no opportunity for a judge to throw out a case as part of some sort of vetting process.

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  19. David Garrett (10,969 comments) says:

    Nookin: quite so…

    As for supposed anti employer bias, I have never forgotten a quote from former Employment Court Judge Dan Finnigan about 15 or 20 years ago, a few years after the ECA extended the right to bring a PG to everyone, and not just union members (something almost always forgotten about the so called “draconian” ECA)

    Finnigan said (paraphrasing him): ” After X years of the Act being in force, I remain surprised at the frequency with which employers continue to fall down well sign posted mine shafts.”

    20 years later, little has changed: In my experience most employers lose because they have not only fallen, but jumped down a well sign posted mine shaft. Although it’s not very nice, it is a reality that almost any employee an employer wants rid of can be “managed out” over three months or so. If they want to get rid of him or her this afternoon or this week, they will almost certainly lose on process. It really is that simple.

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  20. wreck1080 (5,009 comments) says:

    Is there a degree of mental illness with this woman? It is not normal.

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  21. David Garrett (10,969 comments) says:

    wreck: Employment disputes seem to attract a disproportionate number of obsessives…they usually run out of money long before this woman…

    I had one once, a male firefighter who was a fundamentalist Christian…He was of the view that “girly” pinups at the fire station were indecent, and their presence constituted what is called “enviromental sexual harrassment”. The said pinups were of the 1950’s Playboy type: no genitalia and no nipples. I told him that while he objected to them, the test to be applied was a “reasonable man” objective standard, and that he would lose if he made an issue of it i the then Employment Tribunal. He lost. He then sacked me, and went on to lose in both the Employment Court and the Court of Appeal. I have no doubt to this he day he thinks he was right and everyone else just couldnt see it.

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  22. prosper (213 comments) says:

    I am not sure what you base your comments on but they are a long way from the reality that most employers experience. In NZ we now have serial grievance individuals. We have lawyers that take cases to mediation on a no win no fee basis. We have people stealing from companies, caught red handed, prosecuted by the police, and then trying for wrongful dismissal. We have staff taking employers to Mediation because they did not get promoted. There are staff resigning and then taking the employer to mediation for constructive dismissal. The mediator acts as a go between and asks how much you would like to pay then the bargaining begins. The employer pays because it is the cheapest option.
    I am sorry DG the law is not well sign posted. Ask any small business owner. Even companies with huge HR departments and in house lawyers such as Telecom, Fonterra etc get it wrong.

    Good employees are valued and seldom need to bring a grievance.

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  23. David Garrett (10,969 comments) says:

    prosper: I quite agree that large companies get it wrong…In the last 12 months I have had three cases for employees, all employed by national level companies…one was Fonterra, our biggest company. And they fucked it up so badly my lady walked away with a bloody good settlement…a settlement to which she was richly entitled. I can’t give any more details because it is too recent, and might identify her.

    In fact I sometimes wonder just what qualifications these “HR” types have…whatever they are, basic employment law often doesnt seem to have been part of the syllabus…

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  24. Chuck Bird (6,569 comments) says:

    But any lawyer with But any lawyer with even the dimmest understanding of ethics would have told her long ago that the only sure winner out of her crusade would be him (or her)would have told her long ago that the only sure winner out of her crusade would be him (or her)


    David the problem is that few lawyers have even the dimmest understanding of ethics. I have seen this on this blog. I am confident that I will “win” my case. I was offered a settlement of a fraction of what I am entitled to and the fraudulent counterclaim would be dropped.

    I declined. This POS knew the counterclaim was totally untrue but thought his duty as a lawyer was to lie on behalf of his client. The result is that his client will likely be bankrupt as he will have milked his client who have was obsessed and obviously had mental health problems and has collected in fees what I will likely be awarded.

    If I do not reach a reasonable compromise I will make a real effort to make sure this POS is never a judge. The majority of judges are reasonably okay but some are former lawyers devoid of any understanding of ethics.

    A decent tradesman will tell a customer when something is not worth repairing. A decent doctor will tell a patient the downside of treatment whether asked for or not. Some lawyers on this blog think a lawyer has no obligation to tell a client or prospective client if their chances of success are slim.

    I realise there is a balance about ruling someone a vexatious litigant. However, I think in many cases the balance is wrong.

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  25. Nookin (4,570 comments) says:


    I base my comments on my experience as an employment advocate (engaged by employers and employees) and as a trained mediator.

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  26. Nookin (4,570 comments) says:


    I do not practice in your neck of the woods and imagine that your comments may be true of some litigators but, in my experience, you are over-stating your case. Sure, some lawyers are known as settlers and others are known to be like a dog with a bone. For the most part, clients pick the style they want. They are prepared to pay for there day in court and want to give it a go. Some are rotten but they are the exception and are very much in the minority.

    If a lawyer relaxes his/her ethical standards then that lawyer is on a slippery slope. Quite aside from the fact that unethical behaviour can lead to disciplinary action, it also leads to loss of credibility in the eyes of the court and definitely in the eyes of the profession. Lawyers rely heavily on the integrity of other lawyers and once someone has lost the trust of his/her colleagues it is very hard to comeback.

    I have read most of your comments about your case. I am not going to comment on the merits because I have insufficient information. If what you say is true (and I am not doubting you) then I wish you luck and hope you get home. You do need to consider the possibility that your adversary has been told exactly where he stands but is adamant that his case is sound. Once a client has taken that position there are really only two circumstances where the lawyer can pull out. One is if the lawyer knows that the client will comment perjury and the other is if the case is so weak that the lawyer ay be in breach of the lawyer’s over-riding duty to the court in trying to run it.

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  27. Chuck Bird (6,569 comments) says:


    Thanks for your comment. I did not realise you are a trained mediator. I assumed you were a lawyer. You seem more competent as you say you will not comment on the merits of my case as you have insufficient information. That is very sensible.

    I cannot what percentage of lawyers will represent a client in a civil case where he very strongly believes that his client is lying. He got caught lying in another case. When my case is over I will be able to show what I say is true. I of course will not be able to convince lawyer who are hostile to self-represented litigants.

    The issue is the definition of “know”. The lawyer pursued what any reasonable person would know would be a false counterclaim and drops the false counterclaim and the last minute. He had done the same in a previous case with another party and the judge was not impressed. I have submitted the judge’s decision as evidence.

    The client is a former lawyer incapable of representing himself due mental health problems. He is suffering from early dementia. Now the lawyer has milked this guy for nearly everything he has he offered to drop his client’s fraudulent counterclaim and pay me a fraction of what I am owed. I am willing to take a hit but this crooked lawyer can refund some of his fees.

    Lawyers on this blog who defend such conduct help bring their profession into disrepute.

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  28. Nookin (4,570 comments) says:


    I am also a lawyer and litigator but I much prefer the problem solving approach of mediation.

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  29. Chuck Bird (6,569 comments) says:


    I am sure there are plenty of good lawyers like you.

    The former lawyer who was my own lawyer and one of my closest friends borrowed money off me. There is not simple hard and fast law against this although it is frowned on. The lawyer who drew up the mortgage was a long term friend of his. My former friend said he would pay my lawyer’s bill. This lawyer was acting for both of us. I will hopefully get a result of my complaint to the NZLS soon. My former friend’s currant lawyer has taken the aggressive response I have described and made a baseless counterclaim which I have described. I proved his client had made a number of false claims. His client admitted making a false claim with his other former friend who drew up the mortgage. The judge was not impressed.

    Lawyers on this blog try to tell me it is all my fault for not hiring a lawyer. It is possible I could have done better with a lawyer but just as possible I would be considerably worse off.

    I get a judge (former lawyer) who cannot be bothered putting his minute/direction in writing and by the time he reads my complaint he cannot remember what was said.

    I trust you can understand why I do not have a very high view of the legal profession.

    I will be able to give more detail when my case is over.

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