A paramedic claims St John discriminated against her when she was rejected for a job as a trainee after telling them she had epilepsy.
Nicole Lee Ross has now taken her case to the Employment Relations Authority, but she must prove she was offered the job by Hato Hone St John in 2018 to be able to make a claim against the organisation.
St John said it had not formally made an offer of employment to Ross when it ended her application. The organisation claims she initially lied about her medical condition which would have prevented her from driving ambulances.
Ross was studying for a paramedicine degree at Auckland University of Technology [AUT] in mid-2018 when she applied for an emergency medical assistant [EMA] position at St John in Te Awamutu.
The role was one of a number created around the country following Government funding to double-crew ambulances, particularly in rural areas.
She told the Employment Relations Authority at an investigation meeting in Hamilton on Thursday she was already volunteering at St John and had a mentor within the service who encouraged her to apply.
Ross interviewed well before undergoing pre-employment checks including police vetting, a drug test, reference checks, and a health questionnaire.
St John ambulance drivers must be able to drive through emergency situations including traffic lights, under lights and siren, and faster than the speed limit. Photo / Supplied
Before she filled out the questionnaire she asked St John recruiter Jen Smith whether an email congratulating her on getting to the next stage of the recruitment meant she had the job.
Ross claims Smith said yes and she believed all she had to do was fill out the pre-employment paperwork.
Ross also asked her mentor, St John trainer and relief watch operations manager Trevor Hills, whether she had the job.
Hills checked with hiring manager Hugh Davison who said the interview went well and Ross was a preferred candidate with only the pre-employment checks to be completed. Hills then told Ross she had the job.
In the health questionnaire, Ross disclosed she had childhood epilepsy diagnosed in 2005 and had been on medication and seizure-free for some years.
Ross’ evidence was that once St John discovered this it made her jump through unrealistic hoops that did not exist for other candidates and employees and by doing so it discriminated against her.
These were that driving clearances from her GP and a neurologist were unacceptable to St John and that it required her to have a P-endorsed licence to drive an ambulance because it was a passenger vehicle when it did not require this of other employees.
She also pointed to other employees with epilepsy and diabetes being able to drive ambulances.
But under cross-examination from employment lawyer Charlotte Parkhill for St John, Ross was asked whether she supplied the St John nurse with the driving clearance she repeatedly asked for, from Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency [NZTA].
Ross admitted she did not but said this was because such a form did not exist, which she claimed was confirmed to her by both her GP ad NZTA.
She told authority member Sarah Kennedy-Martin that as part of her degree she undertook and passed a St John driving course but still could not get a job.
She ended up completing the work for St John as part of her clinical placement but was not paid for it, which she would have been if she’d been employed as an EMA.
Nicole Ross was diagnosed with epilepsy as a child but said it was under control with medication. Photo / 123rf
Without experience at St John her degree was almost useless and she only managed to get a job for Te Whatu Ora during the pandemic as a vaccinator, though that work had now dried up.
Hills said he couldn’t understand why Ross’ application was ended when there was a shortage of paramedics.
When he questioned Davison about what happened he claimed Davison called Ross “a lying b****”.
Ross’ honesty was called into question during testimony from Smith who said before Ross applied for the position she had to set up a job seeker profile on the St John website, which was standard for anybody applying for a job there.
In answer to a question about whether she had ever, or would ever suffer illness, injury, or health-related problems that would cause her difficulty in the job, Ross put “No”.
Smith suggested as a person studying paramedicine, Ross should have known that epilepsy would be considered such a condition.
She said if Ross had noted a medical condition in the profile St John would have had further questions that could have been addressed before she made it to the interview stage.
St John Northern general manager for emergency ambulance service Stu Cockburn said an ambulance driver needed to drive under lights and sirens, through traffic lights and sometimes at speeds of up to 30km/h faster than the speed limit.
He said this made the situation a matter of safety because the role of an EMA was to drive ambulances and assist paramedics.
Under questioning from Ross’ advocate Allan Halse, Cockburn denied St John had discriminated against Ross and said her job application was rejected primarily because she did not meet the medical requirements of an ambulance driver, secondary to the omission of her epilepsy on the job seeker profile.
Kennedy-Martin said in order for Ross to progress a claim against St John she first had to prove there was a job offer on the table.
Further submissions could be made by June 16 after which Kennedy-Martin would reserve her decision.
- Natalie Akoorie, Open Justice
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