Evidence has emerged that Sally Rugg, who is the chief of staff for independent MP Dr Monique Ryan, took a flight while knowingly COVID-positive. The assertion has emerged as evidence in the ongoing lawsuit between Ryan and Rugg, after Rugg decided to sue her boss for unreasonable work expectations.
Sally Rugg lodged an unfair dismissal claim against Dr Ryan and the Commonwealth in January. She alleges Ryan pressured her to quit and threatened to fire her for refusing to work unreasonable work hours. Ryan maintains that Rugg left the position of her own volition.
Key documents from the hearing were released on Friday, but the case has become the focus of a discussion around the extended hours political staffers often have to work. Rugg says she regularly worked 70- to 80-hour week, including both weekend days, and 12-hour days during parliamentary sitting weeks.
On one such sitting week in November last year, Rugg tested positive for COVID while in Canberra. She then boarded a plane back to Melbourne, despite knowing she was infected.
Rugg’s lawyers defended the decision by claiming she received advice from a doctor to “return home” after testing positive. However, Justice Debra Mortimer said this could not have amounted to an endorsement of flying interstate. “You can’t hide from that,” she stated, “There is no letter [advising her to board a flight].”
In her evidence to the court, Dr Ryan said she “received a text message from Ms Rugg which said that she was on an aeroplane home, that she could not face the drive or hotel isolation, and that she figured that half the plane could be Covid-positive with or without her on it”.
Dr Ryan is part of the teal independents, and was successful in ousting then-treasurer Josh Frydenberg from his Kooyoung seat last May. Ryan is an ex-paediatrician, who has been outspoken throughout the pandemic about the need for all Australians to follow COVID restrictions and do their best to keep others safe from infection. Last August, she scolded the majority of opposition MPs for not wearing masks to parliament.
Reflective of her stance, Ryan gave Rugg a formal warning for making the choice to travel, allegedly leaving it in an envelope on Rugg’s desk, where it could be seen by other staff.
Dr Ryan told the court she felt Rugg’s decision to travel by plane while COVID-positive was both “morally wrong” and “a huge reputational issue”. Furthermore, Ryan’s affidavit asserted that “Ms Rugg did not accept the seriousness of what she had done.”
Sally Rugg’s statement on her decision to board a flight with covid? In her own words: “I said that my GP had told me it was best to isolate at home and that it was not against the law at that time to travel with Covid.”
Beyond the COVID flight incident, Ms Rugg has made a series of allegations of “acts of hostility” by Ryan towards her, including “embarrassing” her in front of other MPs by asking if she had written a speech, making “highly accusatory” remarks about Rugg’s lack of preparation for sitting weeks, and ignoring Rugg after she took a short break for period pain.
Lawyers expect the full trial to get underway in approximately three months.
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