'Soul-destroying': Auckland woman says former boss' abuse of power left her 'utterly demoralised'

Sarah (not pictured) told Newshub she has been able to shake the experience and still carries the long-lasting trauma from her experience.
Sarah (not pictured) told Newshub she has been able to shake the experience and still carries the long-lasting trauma from her experience. Photo credit: Getty / Supplied.

One in every five New Zealanders say they have been bullied in the workplace. In this two-part series, Newshub looks at what's compelling people to speak up and why it's necessary to spur change.   

An Auckland woman who was mistreated by her employer says the long-lasting impact of workplace bullying has made her less trusting of colleagues and cynical of an industry she once adored. 

Sarah* told Newshub after being repeatedly humiliated she was then unfairly dismissed in 2014 and the experience has affected her confidence in roles in the eight years since. 

In 2014, Sarah, who had been working in events since 2003, was taken on as a high-level position as site management assistant by the man who she says went on to treat her unfairly for an Auckland event. 

His event production company was contracting to economic growth agency Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) which merged with Regional Facilities Auckland to become Auckland Unlimited in December 2020.

Her role included engaging with the event production team, suppliers and crew. She felt her working relationship with her boss was going well until she stopped indulging in his humour after noticing how he unkindly mocked other workers.

Sarah says he turned on her when he realised she was "no longer on his wavelength".

In an interview with Newshub and records made at the time, including the complaint she outlined at the time, Sarah says she started to be given meaningless tasks and unpleasant jobs while her ability was belittled and undermined. 

  • Read part one of this series here 

She says vital information needed for her to be able to accurately carry out her role was withheld from her as well as invitations to a celebration upon the completion of the job. 

"I felt he engaged in an intentional orchestration of power abuse against me, with repeated intimidation, humiliation and belittling tactics," she says. 

She felt comments were often made she deemed were inappropriate, and was excluded, isolated and ignored. 

"It was extremely stressful; I felt humiliated in front of my colleagues, and utterly demoralised.  It was soul-destroying.  

"Even though I knew I had done nothing wrong and he was just abusing his power, it really affected my self-esteem and confidence. Possibly what hurt the most was the fact that everyone knew what he was doing to me, yet said nothing." 

She wrote a letter to ATEED outlining the behaviour she believed was unfair. 

After ATEED queried the boss, she was permitted to return to her event to "finish her chores", but she says she was further treated unfairly and with unfair disadvantage. 

"He blocked me from accessing my own work email address; he failed to give me my accreditation; he stripped me of an RT – an essential communication tool; and he removed me from the catering list, so I went without lunch."  

Sarah says she was also demoted from her job as the site management assistant. Instead, she was made to deliver 1000 bags of ice around the site, hand-wheel 30 heavy boxes of programmes around the site, and stack chairs and tables. 

"This created confusion amongst crew, contractors and production, as my name and number was documented as the key contact for site management. I felt embarrassed at being, inexplicably, in a limited capacity to help."

She reported his actions as an abuse of power to a manager but he went on to be contracted for future events. 

"The fact that he was re-contracted to ATEED just made it a hundred times worse. People will always turn a blind eye when business is involved and sadly I don't see this changing - this includes crew work 'mates' who won't support you, in fear of losing work themselves, and who therefore enable the perpetrator, or worse, who actively support the perpetrator and dismiss you completely.

"I understand first-hand how difficult it is to speak out, and the dire consequences suffered for doing so."

She told Newshub she believes areas of the events industry fail to hold people to account, left completely disappointed when she complained about her experience and no action was taken. 

She says it is heartening to see, finally, that action is being taken to stand up to abusive behaviour across multiple public-facing industries this year, and felt sharing her story could illustrate that often the long-term damage. 

An ATEED spokesperson told Newshub it received a written complaint about a third-party contractor in 2014. 

"Any complaint received by ATEED, either historically or in the present, is taken seriously. How they are investigated depends on the nature of the complaint and the parties involved."

Due to the length of time that has passed, only current staff who were employed in 2014 were able to offer any information, and the staff member who acknowledged the complaint is no longer employed by ATEED.  

"The complaint was acknowledged in writing, and two voicemail messages were left inviting the complainant to discuss their concerns directly with ATEED. The request by the complainant that the complaint was kept confidential was respected."

"We do not have records of whether the email or phone calls were returned, and current employees don’t hold any further information that can shed light about the matter," the spokesperson said.

Sarah says she did discuss her concerns directly with ATEED, but ultimately felt they were dismissed. 

"I've spent 18 years of my life working in a male-dominated industry, often isolated from the 'boys club'," Sarah says. 

"Instances like these make it hard not to feel resentful and that you have wasted the better part of your life. I still have my toes in the industry but am now pursuing a different career; albeit a little too late - the sacrifices made have been life-altering and impacts of abuse, enduring. 

"ATEED had the opportunity to walk away from this behaviour - but they did not.  Instead, they renewed his contract for multiple years. Unfortunately, instances like this do happen all the time, and so the cycle continues." 

 *Sarah is not her real name.