A legal stoush between federal MP Monique Ryan and her former chief of staff Sally Rugg has taken a fresh twist, with the staffer claiming she wants her job back.
Lawyers acting for Ms Rugg, Dr Ryan and the Commonwealth of Australia returned before the Federal Court on Friday after a month of private mediation failed to resolve the issue.
Ms Rugg filed legal action against her boss and the Commonwealth in January, asking the court to issue an injunction preventing her employment being terminated.
Ms Rugg alleges she was coerced to hand in her resignation as Dr Ryan’s chief of staff and “frozen out” of the federal MP’s office after Dr Ryan created a “hostile” work environment.
“We say that what occurred was that Ms Rugg was pushed or jostled into resigning,” counsel for Ms Rugg, Angel Alexov, said.
Mr Alexov told the court his client‘s salary of $136,000 per year, plus a staff allowance of “about $30,000”, was not enough to compensate for the work she was required to do.
Federal MP Monique Ryan heads into court ahead of the continuing case of unfair work hours brought on by former staffer Sally Rugg. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Ian Currie
He said his client was regularly working “upwards” of 70 hours per week, including on weekends, and felt pressured to resign after refusing to take on more work.
“The response from Dr Ryan was essentially: ‘I need this done. I need you to work harder’,” he said.
Dr Ryan denies there was any tension in their relationship or the specific allegations of hostile behaviour.
In an affidavit, Dr Ryan alleges she had no intention of firing Ms Rugg before she tendered a resignation letter.
She claimed she spoke to Ms Rugg on December 16 to tell her she wasn’t meeting the requirements of the position and they should “rejig her role to play to her strengths”.
Their working relationship, Mr Alexov suggested, deteriorated in late 2022 because of a number of incidents, including when Ms Rugg was reprimanded for getting on a commercial flight with Covid.
Sally Rugg (left) returned to court on Friday after a month of mediation with Dr Ryan and the Commonwealth failed. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Ian Currie
Ms Rugg’s legal team has sought to stop her termination from taking effect and financial compensation for the alleged “hostile conduct” that she says forced her to take stress leave in December.
They have suggested her legal challenge could be a “test case” to determine appropriate staff workloads and “reasonable” overtime.
Mr Alexov said the legal dispute had “the flavour of a test case written all over it”.
Dr Ryan’s counsel, Matthew Minucci, told the court his client expressly denied deciding to dismiss Ms Rugg, claiming her actions after handing in the letter of resignation were “entirely consistent” with a person who had resigned.
Justice Debbie Mortimer questioned how the two parties could be expected to work together if she granted Ms Rugg’s application to return to work.
“The material is pretty stark about a breakdown in their working relationship,” she said.
“I have found it difficult to reconcile Ms Rugg’s desire to return with the serious allegations.”
Lawyers for Dr Ryan and the Commonwealth are set to address the court on Friday afternoon.
The hearing continues.