A man used a pseudonymous Twitter account to make a sexist comment about a woman. The woman took offence. She knew his real name. She presumably could do little to obtain a retraction or apology from him, and was dissatisfied with this. She also knew who his employer was, so she contacted them and asked them to harass him for her, and they appear to have complied.

Regardless of the tastelessness of his actions, her behaviour cannot be justified. His behaviour was representative of his individual values, and presumably was undertaken in his own time using his own resources. It had nothing to do with his employer or his professional competence.

It was therefore none of his employer’s business, and they should have said so to the woman, but they appear to have done the opposite. They investigated him on spurious grounds. The man confirms that his behaviour has been investigated by his employer and that he cannot comment on the process or the outcome.

The man is federal public servant Darryl Adams, who works for the Australian Taxation Office. The woman is Melinda Tankard Reist, an anti-abortion activist. The wording of the tweet, reproduced in The Australian newspaper, was ‘So, has anyone found naked pictures of #mtr (Tankard Reist)? She is rootable in that religious feminist way.’

The Australian Public Service code of conduct begins: ‘The Code of Conduct requires that an employee must behave honestly and with integrity in the course of APS employment‘. In the course of APS employment. Everything that follows should be read in that context.

It states that ‘APS employees may generally make public comment in a private capacity, so long as they make it clear they are expressing their own views‘ and that ‘When APS employees are making public comment in an unofficial capacity, it is not appropriate for them to make comment that is, or could be perceived to be a gratuitous personal attack that might reasonably be perceived to be connected with their employment‘.

Adams has not breached any of these conditions. His gratuitous personal attack on Reist was obviously not connected to his employment, and no reasonable reader could come to that conclusion.

The code of conduct also states that ‘The APS Values and Code of Conduct, including Public Service Regulation 2.1, apply to using online media in the same way as when participating in any other public forum. The requirements include behaving with respect and courtesy, and without harassment‘. This is presumably still in the context of ‘In the course of APS employment’.

But then the wording changes. It states ‘APS employees must still uphold the APS Values and Code of Conduct even when material is posted anonymously, or using an ‘alias’ or pseudonym, and should bear in mind that even if they do not identify themselves online as an APS employee or an employee of their agency, they could nonetheless be recognised as such.

This is an outrageous and indefensible invasion of privacy and an unreasonable condition of employment that deserves to be legally challenged. It is debatable whether Adams’ comment about Reist constitutes harassment, but it is clearly disrespectful and discourteous. But what has this to do with Adams’ employer in general or, more specifically, his performance of his professional duties? Nothing.

The ATO’s investigation of Adams’ and its censoring of him is alarming and disturbing. It demonstrates that the state views its employees as units that can and should be monitored and controlled at all times; that they can possess no individuality or personality or life outside of work. This is unacceptable.

He made a personal comment. If she was offended she should have gone to the police. It is nothing to do with his employer. He was not attacking her on behalf of or in the name of the ATO.

The whinging journalists circling the story are all missing the point. Chris Kenny, the author of the article in The Australian, opines stiffly that ‘We are left to ponder the … disciplinary strictures within the bureaucracy.‘ Err, no we’re not. The bureaucracy wasn’t tweeting.

They’re completely missing the fucking point (as they often do). This was a personal altercation, not a professional one. Reist should have reported it to the police, not the ATO. The bureautards at the ATO should have advised her to do the same.

The ATO should publicly apologise to Adams for harassing him for his personal behaviour. It should also publicly acknowledge that it acted inappropriately in acting on Reist’s request to harass Adams without examining whether this was appropriate.

Reist should also apologise to Adams for her cowardly behaviour in contacting his employer. Of course she’s not going to given Adams’ has not apologised to her. Her offence, however, is far worse than his.

I’ll preempt the inevitable accusation of belittling Reist’s experience in this situation by saying that I do not doubt that she could have had a reasonable belief that the tweet was offensive. What she chose to do about it, however, was malicious, inappropriate and unreasonable.

It also suggested that she did not really view it as threatening. If she had, she would surely have taken it to the police. She appears not to have done that. Rather, she chose to take revenge.

In supporting Reist’s malicious revenge, the state has acted to unreasonably and unfairly harass a citizen because of the mere coincidence that it employs him. This moronic bureaucratic harassment and censorship should worry every citizen, irrespective of who their employer is.

Darryl Adams vs Melinda Tankard Reist: harassed at work for personal behaviour online

4 thoughts on “Darryl Adams vs Melinda Tankard Reist: harassed at work for personal behaviour online

  • 20 June 2013 at 7:42 pm

    Given the situation is now on the public record, I can give my side of the story.

    1. Under the Code of Conduct, I was given a formal warning, with a file note attatched to my file and advised (in a very strong way) to change my online behavior. Which I did, killing the Fake Paul Keating persona

    2. A second complaint, raised by the Minister was made. Partly due to the ATO not informing the Ms Tankard Reist that action was taken. The ATO responded with a form letter advising that action was taken, but under the Privacy Act could not give details (despite my advising the ATO I would waive my privacy in this case)

    3. Chris Kenny contacted me at work. I immedietly advised my director that the press made contact with me (as required under PS Act and policy at ATO). I advised management this has a risk of exploding. I was told to wait for feedback from Media Unit (which I never received)

    4. Article was published in The Australian (Unkindness of Strangers)

    5. Matter was raised at Estimates by Sen. Abeitz, mostly a rehash of original complaint with 2 tweets added

    6. ATO advise me that I need to show cause why I should not be suspended from duty with/without pay, which I did.

    As a result I am now on suspension with pay pending a second investigation by the ATO

    I have also asked for permission to apologise to MTR. This has been rejected by ATO and advised against by the CPSU (my union)

    Given the original complaint predated ATO social Media Policy, the original complaint has been complied with as far as I am concerned. However, I am finding that I am in Double Jeopardy as MTR can reraise the issue with new (and irrelevent) tweets via the press, Senate or Ministerial complaint. I am not allowed to resign as the ATO reserves the right to advise potential employers of this issue.

    So, it is safe to say that I am in a world of shit.

  • 28 June 2014 at 9:46 am

    Brian, as you are someone who has been consistently of the view that what someone does as a private individual on social media should not impact on their employment I wondered where you stood on the recent Tamar Iveri/Opera Australia kerfluffle?


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