The former Ravensthorpe mine manager who sued BHP Billiton for millions of dollars over claims he was unfairly sacked said he was shocked to lose the case in the Supreme Court yesterday.
Isak Buitendag was dismissed as general manager of the Ravensthorpe Nickel West project in January 2009, a day before the mine closure was announced, over claims he had failed to follow proper asset disposal procedures.
Mr Buitendag, now a senior manager with Fortescue Metals Group, sued BHP Billiton for about $2 million in damages, including $1.2 million in shares he lost when sacked.
The dismissal was over Mr Buitendag's bid to arrange for two unused transportable houses owned by the mining giant to be donated to two local sports clubs.
This included the Clay Target Shooting Club he was in the process of establishing with two other people.
Mr Buitendag got permission for the donations from stainless-steel materials president Jimmy Wilson, but Mr Wilson told the court in March this year he would not have allowed it had he been given all the facts.
Justice Rene Le Miere said in his ruling that Mr Buitendag's involvement in establishing the Shooting Club created a conflict of interest, because he stood to gain from the donations as a club member and founder.
Justice Le Miere said Mr Buitendag breached the terms of his employment contracts in several counts, including his claim to Mr Wilson in September 2008 that the transportables were "very modest" and of little value.
An application he put to Ravensthorpe Nickel for financial help to establish the site he said he had secured a building worth $50,000.
Mr Buitendag told the court he had not considered disclosing this value because over the years he had worked for Mr Wilson, the company had ruthlessly removed assets from site that were potentially worth much more but considered only in terms of their removal cost.
The court found he breached his contractual obligations and fiduciary duty to BHP when he asked a Ravensthorpe Nickel drafting co-ordinator to do drawings of the club's clay target range as a personal favour. He had also asked an earthmoving company that stood to compete for contracts worth millions of dollars at the mine to do about $25,000 work free for the club.
"His conduct was conduct which is likely to, and did, destroy his employer's trust and confidence in him carrying out his responsibilities as general manager of Ravensthorpe Nickel in accordance with his contractual obligations," said the decision.
Mr Buitendag said he was shocked at the decision, reiterating that he had not personally gained from the donations.