Christchurch social worker struck off after harassing lawyer

Francesca Lynch was struck-off and ordered to pay $30,000. Photo / Supplied

“You fat disgusting pig … What a sad little man you are.”

These were some of the text messages a disgruntled social worker sent to a lawyer who handled her job termination from a major tertiary hospital.

Francesca Lynch also left a series of voicemails where only the sound of a clock ticking could be heard, as well as making fake Facebook profiles to send the man threatening messages.

It was conduct that ultimately got Lynch struck off from social work and ordered to pay $30,000 in costs for a Social Workers Disciplinary Tribunal hearing she didn’t attend.

The tribunal also found she had formed an inappropriate relationship with a client of the Salvation Army, who was on bail and whom she was a social worker for.

Lynch worked at the then Canterbury District Health Board as a social worker from 2017 until 2019 but an internal investigation into her conduct in 2019 ultimately led to her employment being terminated.

A lawyer and legal adviser to the hospital handled the mediation after which Lynch targeted him with a range of messages through Facebook and via phone and email attacking his personal appearance and professional capability.

The man has name suppression and was referred to as Mr X in the tribunal decision released on Thursday.

He told a hearing in June that after Lynch left Christchurch Hospital and began working for the Salvation Army he began receiving messages on Facebook from apparent strangers.

“You disgusting pig! You won’t be in your job for too much longer,” one of them said.

Another message from a profile named “Willie Morris” referred to Mr X as a “grotesque and repulsively ugly person”, who karma was going to “bite twice as hard on your fat ass”.

Another said Mr X must have “been bullied at some point in your life” because you “immerse yourself in evil behaviour and get off on this”.

Mr X said he reported the messages to the police and NetSafe and informed the sender who he suspected was Lynch.

“Of course u have Hahaha”, was the response, along with: “Police have better things to do then listen your [sic] wee mouth go off again”.

Mr X said the Willie Morris Facebook profile continued to send him direct messages calling him “fat” and “obese”.

Other comments were made from Lynch’s own Facebook profile on a news article about another employment dispute Mr X had handled at the time.

In November 2020 he received a series of voice messages on his cellphone, one with just the sound of a clock ticking but others were lengthy tirades from a woman he recognised as Lynch.

“We all know you were bullied as a kid. Just look at you, you’re a fat, grotesque pig that is totally inadequate at everything you do in your role,” the message said.

“I told you I was powerful. Let’s just see what happens now eh? Watch the events unfold drastically.

“The nightmare has only just begun for you, just begun.”

A further message left a few minutes after the first said: “Hey, and one final thing mate. You know what? You can’t do anything about me. That must make you feel extremely angry and unsettled and worried and anxious.”

The Social Workers Disciplinary Tribunal found that the Facebook messages were sent at the same time as emails to Mr X and used similar language.

Because of that the tribunal was satisfied Lynch was responsible for all the social media messages, the decision said.

They also found the voice messages left on Mr X’s phone could be linked to Lynch, after hearing recordings of them at the hearing earlier this year.

“Social workers are expected to confront and deal with situations of conflict on a daily basis. They are expected to do so professionally and respectfully,” the decision stated.

“Her use of false Facebook profiles to harass a former colleague, and to post publicly about purported issues with a former employer, is a totally inappropriate way to deal with any concerns Ms Lynch may have had.

“Put simply, in the tribunal’s opinion, Ms Lynch’s conduct was disgraceful.”

However, it wasn’t just Lynch’s harassment of Mr X that the tribunal looked at when cancelling her registration and ordering her to pay $20,110 towards the professional conduct committee’s costs and $12,793 to the tribunal.

Also under the microscope was her conduct at the Salvation Army in Christchurch, where she worked after she left the hospital.

As a social worker there she engaged with clients as part of a Community Housing team, working with people who had issues with abuse or incarceration.

A large number of messages were exchanged between Lynch and a man known only as Mr Z, many of them outside work hours.

“The number of messages and calls exchanged between Ms Lynch and Mr Z show that there was something beyond a purely professional relationship occurring,” the tribunal said.

“There is little or no explanation for the remainder of the times they met up or exchanged calls or text messages.”

Her employer met with her multiple times to discuss professional boundaries and how her relationship with Mr Z was being perceived by other staff members.

“In addition, the tribunal also considered as an aggravating feature, Mr Z’s vulnerability, regardless of how charming or manipulative he was. He was a client of the Salvation Army because of a trauma history, and he was on bail.”

Ultimately the tribunal found that between the harassment of Mr X and the inappropriate relationship with Mr Z, Lynch was no longer fit to be a social worker in New Zealand.

“Her conduct demonstrates that Ms Lynch lacks appreciation for or is prepared to disrespect professional boundaries. She has demonstrated a lack of regard for appropriate professional conduct as a social worker.”

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