- Publish Date
- Tuesday, 3 December 2019, 2:28PM
A University of Newcastle employee lost his job after it was considered he used racist language when addressing a colleague via email.
Ollie de Planta de Wildenberg, 28, sent his colleague an email where he called him "hash brown".
He "strenuously" denies he did that deliberately and says the name of his female colleague was autocorrected by Outlook.
A disciplinary investigation conducted by the university led to the man's dismissal, after it concluded "he did type the words in question" and that they were "perceived as offensive and involving racial language".
"Hash brown is not a racist term. It is a breakfast item," he told the Newcastle Chronicle.
"It is a bit weird thing to call someone that intentionally. Why would I do it?
"To class it as gross misconduct is just unbelievable. I didn't realise initially just how serious they were taking it," he added.
"The sanction bears no resemblance to what happened. I strenuously deny that this message had been sent deliberately. It was a typing error.
"There is nothing to suggest this is racist."
He said he was unaware he'd sent those words in the email until the following morning, when his line manager took him aside.
"When I was told, I just thought 'oh my days'. I had not met or spoken to this woman before so I had no reason to call her a name," he said.
"It was an informal meeting and he was laughing about it. He just told me to be more careful in the future and I thought that was the end of it."
However, that same day, an investigation into gross misconduct began and he was fired a few hours later.
His bosses were unable to replicate the auto-correction.
"I believe that in the balance of probability that you did type the words in question and that the words were perceived as offensive and involving racial language," the university said in a letter to him.
This article was originally published at nzherald.co.nz and is reproduced here with permission