The Guardian: NSW police officer loses appeal against sacking for sending racist, homophobic and sexist texts

Calvin Dunne was terminated in 2019 for messages shared with colleagues in Whatsapp group

An appeal against the sacking of a senior constable for sending a series of racist, homophobic and sexist messages to New South Wales police colleagues in a Whatsapp group has been rejected.

In the chat involving officers in the Botany Bay local area command, Calvin Dunne used a racial slur to refer to an Indigenous colleague and said Indigenous people “don’t date … they steal”.

Several messages about two constables included homophobic slurs and discussed their sexual relationships, while Dunne also told colleagues to “go down on each other”.

When one officer got breast implants, Dunne said “surely puts her in first place now” for colleagues aged “over 30” and discussed rankings of other colleagues.

Dunne was sacked in November 2019 after a two-year investigation into the messages he posted to the group chat between June and October 2017.

His appeal against that termination, which he characterised as harsh and disproportionate, was resoundingly rejected this week by the NSW industrial relations commissioner Janine Webster.

“Objectively considered, the applicant’s conduct through his contributions to the group chat was serious misconduct,” she said.

“This is not acceptable conduct anywhere in Australian society and the ‘black humour’ reportedly present in the Police Force is an insufficient explanation for his personal decisions and behaviour.

“It was disgraceful and unacceptable conduct, not at the lower end of the scale of seriousness of employee misconduct.”

When the messages were uncovered in October 2017, Dunne was suspended. He argued his termination was harsh and disproportionate to the gravity of the conduct, for which he was never previously warned or counselled.

His wife, who works in human resources, had been forced to return to work to support him and their 18-month-old daughter and service their $320,000 mortgage, the tribunal was told.

“It is uncontentious that he is remorseful about his conduct and it has deeply affected him and his family emotionally and economically,” his lawyers submitted.

Dunne also submitted that it was highly significant he had not been trained in the relevant policies he was alleged to have breached, and that the messages had been made in a private forum for consenting adults.

But Webster said there was no evidence the messages in the group were private.

“I agree with the [police force’s] submission that there is no material difference between the group chat and what might transpire in the muster room of the police station,” she said.

Webster said there was a strong public interest in ensuring the NSW force was a workplace “free from harassment and bullying” and Dunne’s termination “sends a message to other police officers” that such inappropriate conduct would not be tolerated.

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