The spinner, the chief and the pay spat

It began as a simple dispute over pay between a media spinner and the major Melbourne hospital he worked for.

It escalated when a fight between the spinner and Nine News' chief of staff – also a member of the hospital's fundraising board – resulted in him being formally disciplined.

Now, it is set to end in the Federal Court.

In a statement of claim filed in court last week, St Vincent's Hospital media manager Bruce Atherton argues the hospital targeted him after a complaint from Nine News' chief of staff Kate McGrath.

In October, Mr Atherton had approached a Nine news crew while they were preparing to film at the public hospital, for a story he believed related to St Vincent's Private Hospital.

He told a Nine News reporter, Vicky Jardim, that she did not have permission to film in the public hospital.

Soon after, "Mr Atherton received a telephone call from a Ms Kate McGrath, the chief of staff for Nine News, in which she referred to the incident ... and accused Mr Atherton of having been rude to a journalist", the statement of claim said.

"Ms McGrath said that she was a member of St Vincent's board and that she was going to raise the issue with the St Vincent's board and with St Vincent's Foundation director Mr Bill Younger," the statement of claim said.

As well being Nine News' chief of staff, Ms McGrath is on the board of the St Vincent's Foundation, the hospital's fundraising arm which is responsible for around 30 per cent of its funding.

Mr Atherton immediately complained to the hospital's director of planning and government relations, Andrew Crettenden, "about Ms McGrath using her position to intimidate and threaten him".

The hospital later told Mr Atherton it had received a complaint from Ms McGrath.

Soon after, he was asked to attend a meeting to respond to allegations of unprofessional behaviour.

Mr Atherton said in his statement of claim that Nine News had complained he had told their reporter that "maybe if you'd been doing this long enough you'd have an idea about what you're doing".

He was then given a letter advising him he had "failed to disprove the allegations of unprofessional behaviour" and that served "as a first warning".

The dispute involving Ms McGrath was preceded by Mr Atherton telling his supervisors in July that he was being drastically underpaid for his after-hours work. He is seeking $70,600 in unpaid wages.

Mr Atherton, through his lawyers Maurice Blackburn, is alleging the hospital took adverse action against him, by targeting him after he complained about his wages.

His union, the Health Services Union, is also seeking at least $66,000 in penalties against the hospital for contravening the Fair Work Act.

Mr Atherton did not respond to phone messages left this week. Ms McGrath also did not respond to several attempts to contact her on Tuesday and Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for St Vincent's Hospital said on Tuesday that, as the matter was before the court, it would be inappropriate to comment.

clucas@theage.com.au

The story The spinner, the chief and the pay spat first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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