A Breakdown In Communications

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On September 9, 2011, on the eve of World Suicide Prevention Day, an article appeared in the Irish Times. The author, who requested anonymity, spoke of an attempt to take her own life, her subsequent hospitalisation and a plea for greater understanding about depression. She also criticised the reaction of her employers to an illness with “no visible symptoms” and made a number of allegations against them.

She wrote:

Mine was not a work-related illness. At least not before I entered the hospital. However, when I was released and when I returned to my office, things became different. I knew it would be difficult to explain to my employer, and I knew it would be difficult for them to understand an illness with no visible symptoms. I did not, however, expect that I would be met with casual hostility, with passive-aggressive references to my mental incapacity for my profession, and my apparently perceived “plan” to leave the company entirely in the lurch.

“When I returned from my two-week stint in mental health limbo, where doctors and nurses admonished me for my apparent need for control, my definition of myself through the value of my trade, I expected to be accepted back as the hard-working employee I have always been.

I do not blame my employer. Ultimately those who have not suffered from the illness do not know how to approach it in others – even those who have suffered from it may find it difficult. When I returned I found myself pitying my manager who met the story of my misery with confusion and the suggestion that I could not be trusted with seniority. I was accused of planning my absence. Every question seemed posed with the hope that it might bolster a preconceived notion.

She added:

Clearly, they had no idea what to do.

Much of what my employer has done and said since my absence has been illegal. And I do not think for a minute that what my employer did was an isolated incident.”

The author was Kate Fitzgerald (above right), age 25, who, by the time the article was printed, was dead. On Saturday Peter Murtagh wrote movingly about her life and suicide in the Irish Times.

Her employer was The Communications Clinic, a media training company set up in 2008 by Terry Prone, her husband Tom Savage and their son Anton Savage.

The Communications Clinic was also the subject of allegations by a former employee Karagh Fox (left), age 26, who worked at the company between March 2008-November 2009.

She claimed she had been repeatedly bullied by Ruth Hickey, a senior member of staff, who, she alleged, had “screamed at her in the workplace and reduced her to tears”. In an Employment Appeals Tribunal hearing in July, a month before Kate’s death, Ms Fox said that she had been constructively dismissed from the PR company.

From the Irish Independent (July 14):

Ms Fox said she complained of the alleged bullying to Anton Savage, the company’s managing director and Ms Prone’s son.

“I was shaking like a leaf, I was terrified I suppose,” she said when asked by her barrister how she felt when she told Mr Savage of the alleged abuse.

Ms Fox said she was given a copy of the company’s grievance procedure, but that she felt she was being “interrogated” by Mr Savage about the allegations after she submitted them in writing.

“He told me he had spent five company days working on it and that cost €15,000 and that he was doing this now,” she told her legal representative, Niamh McGowan BL, adding that Mr Savage was “sarcastic” in his responses to her.

She later went to a doctor who suggested counselling.

“It was extremely helpful; I learned coping methods.”

“I’d go in every morning terrified of what was going to happen, maybe Ruth would explode, or Anton would badger me about specific complaints (about Ruth) which I couldn’t give him.

“The month to when I left was the hardest, I actually don’t know how I got up every morning and went into work.

“It was a horrible, horrible place to be… that was how I felt.”

Ms Hickey and Mr Savage denied the allegations and the hearing was adjourned until October. We are unable to find any details on whether the case was concluded in Ms Fox’s favour or indeed settled at all and we have put a call in to the court.

Former Employee Claims She Was Bullied At Prone’s PR firm (Edel Kennedy, Irish Independent July 18, 2011)

Employers Failing People With Mental Health Issues (Kate Fitzgerald, Irish Times, September 9, 2011)

She Radiated Talent, Energy, Beauty. She Took Her Own Life At The Age Of 25 (Peter Murtagh, irish Times)

Previously: The Story of Kate Fitzgerald

54 thoughts on “A Breakdown In Communications

  1. Man

    Passive bullying is a huge problem in small companies. Often the bully themselves complain of being bullied in an effort to undermine the real victim. Bullies must be dealt with head on and not be prevented from continuing with their campaign. Their bosses or business partners must respond if they receive a complaint or they are equally liable. Many bullies are sociopaths and pathological liars who cannot be treated and therefore must be removed from the workplace.

  2. Tommy

    From their site. “Who we are – We’re a bunch of doggedly honest workaholics who try every day to make a difference to the people we work with and the people we work for.”
    Certainly made a difference.

  3. Pedanto, the Hilarity Man

    Obviously I have enormous sympathy for that poor woman, but the original piece was presumably anonymous partly because of the allegations she was making about her bosses. There wasn’t much detail, or anything to back them up, and they did make me yearn to hear the other side.

    Fair play to you Broadsheet geezers for doing the research on this, by the way.

    1. Shocked

      seeing another employee leaving one month before and alleging bullying…that’s plenty of information…how many employees does one need to see what’s going on there?

  4. mickmick

    Kate Fitzgerald was beautiful and sounds like a really interesting person. What a sad loss. Her family’s pain really comes through in Peter Murtagh’s column.
    :^(

        1. Bête Noire

          No, not trolling. Having spent time in in-patient mental health care myself, I do have friends, acquaintances, and roommates who didn’t make it out. Less press, fewer tributes from total strangers, but no less tragic.

  5. Breffni Boy

    This case was settled on the day it was due, IIRC. None of the above testimony was tested at the EAT….her claims remain just that…

    1. Mags Magoo

      Well the fact that it was settled would lead one to believe the employer feared that had the case being heard before the EAT that: a) they stood a good chance of losing, and b) it would cause serious reputational damage. If the claims were completely without foundation it would have been prudent for the employer to go to hearing and fight the case. I think we can say that on this occassion the old saying “no smoke without fire” could be apt.

      1. todge

        Not necessarily, each side carry their own costs in employment law. Also, the procedural burden placed on employers means that often it’s much more practical for an employer to settle rather than give the money to their legal team and have to wait up to 2 years for hearing and possible appeal. Settlement means they can move on and be done with it.

  6. I really should be working

    Terry Prone is all that was wrong is wrong and will continue to be wrong with Irish Media and Poltics.
    Her and her off spring appear on nearly every media outlet to voice their opinion on everything and anything!

  7. i'm a celebrity Frilly Keane

    I don’t know enough to comment sensibly so I’ll leave Ye with 6 letters (which Terry Promo said was her greatest professionalachievement)

    P F L Y N N

  8. Willie Banjo

    I think Terry Prone advised Gay Mitchell during his unsuccessful (to put it mildly) presidential campaign although she doesn’t like to talk about it or at least didn’t when Vincent Brown kept raising it on his show one night.

    One of the central planks of Gay’s campaign was, of course, suicide.

    Words sometimes do fail me.

  9. Paul

    Something about this doesn’t sit right. To be honest it kind of seems like you’re using the death of a young girl to have a pop at someone. I’m no fan of Prone but this just seems a bit inappropriate.

    1. Billy B

      Given her letter to the IT Kate is the one that highlighted the response she got at the job. Broadsheet simply highlighted a series of errors at the communications clinic

  10. Billy B

    Knew Kate a little bit during college, nice girl, passionate and was dedicated to the things she was interested in. Hadn’t been in touch for several years but was really taken aback at her suicide. Only found out by accident. From the things she wrote in her letter to the IT seems the pressure of her job, and more so those she worked with and under crushed her. I guess she was very fragile in a certain way. Her family are brave for talking about her death in the way they have and I really commend them for it. Maybe the taboo arround mental health in Ireland will be undermined a little by that. – I wish them and her friends the best in their greif. As for her former employers at the communications clinic perhaps some soul searching is long overdue….

  11. Chopp-er

    Odd company people profiles. mostly out of date too. how long is the tribune gone? Unless people are still writing for it…shocking PR for a company in this space because they do have good clients ( or did ).

    1. Eithne

      The Sunday Tribune last published on 30 January this year (or 6 February if you were taken in by The Irish Mail on Sunday!)

  12. Man

    The Irish are masters at passing the blame, not taking responsibility and behaving like children in a crisis. We’ve been a nation of gullible crying babies for generations if not hundreds of years. Nothing is ever our fault.

    There are some people among us who use the weaknesses of our character to make money. Most of them are corrupt businessmen and politicians. The PR game also takes advantage and as far as I’m concerned, Prone is at the top of that pile of sh**e.

  13. Joe G

    Somebody should have told her to get out of propaganda as a career, possibly a doctor.

    As for all the “I’m not beautiful enough to be cared about when I kill myself” talk, suicide is seen as a legitimate way out of problems cause by their surroundings, which they can’t change.

    Feel sorry for her friends and family, same for anybody connected, however slight. Cluster suicides occurred in my home town and nobody forgets.

    F**k Ireland, you know that, and ramp up the f**king satire on your site. Cut into the f**ks peddling their suicide inducing shit and maybe you might help people feel better about the hopelessness.

  14. Willie Banjo

    Kate’s original article for the Irish Times is now only available online in an edited version (a lot of the negative stuff is gone). I guess PR does work.

  15. random ntrygg

    I’m on disability – diagnosed with clinical depression, general anxiety and panic disorder, PTSD and agoraphobia – all because of three years of being bullied by co-workers and management for standing up and saying loud and clear – and repeatedly – that the emperor had no clothes on.

    That we had too many staff for the amount of work, and the work we had left was unnecessary by policy definition. That managers were empire building to prop up their rank and salary at the expense of long term staff to the favoritism of new staff who were younger and wouldn’t challenge management in any way.

    Being bullied is like being handed over to the Potterverse Dementors – you don’t think you’ll ever be happy again and your soul is sucked out.

    1. Economist Frilly Keane

      Yeah. you are pretty fúced alright.

      But I mean it in a nice way…..

      (take care of yerself)

  16. RoBy

    I feel like I’ve been blind to the Irish Media centre circle. Of course the PR machine saw to that. These are tragic tales. I’ll keep an eye on those hypocrites. i see yer man Antons loose wit all over that terrible website of theirs. What a dirty game they’re in…and i’m in waste management.

  17. CarolH

    Please be care people. In the aftermath of a death by suicide it’s natural to want to blame someone or something else.. Most suicide deaths come in the wake of serious depression. Take a step back.

  18. Papergirl

    This should not be an opportunity to vent personal feelings about Prone, Savage et al but rather an opportunity to discuss mental health, suicide and the stigma attached to those issues. It’s time to talk about it.

  19. Aidan White

    The Irish Times is a fine paper with a rich tradition; and Peter Murtagh is an exemplary journalist, but the ham-fisted editing of this piece does no credit to these reputations. The Irish Times should fully disclose the back story; the detail of contact with the Communications Clinic and its management; the advice from its in-house lawyers; and the editorial process that led to the final cuts. Someone should say sorry to the family.

    1. SDaedalus

      plus zillion

      this is exactly it.

      also, I would add, they should clarify the situation regarding the friends, which the apology on its own terms raises but leaves open.

      it’s interesting that they fall all over themselves apologising to TCC but not to ordinary people mentioned in the article.

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