Last month, Oslo District Court concluded a highly unusual trial after eight days of conflicting statements and strong accusations.
Focus is on the decorated officer with the longest service record in the armed forces. He has done many assignments abroad.
He was allegedly illegally dismissed
On 17 August 2022, he was sacked that day for lack of leadership skills.
At that time, it was half a year since the start of the war in Ukraine.
Defense feared that distrust between him and Major General Elizabeth Michelson was too great to affect operational efficiency.
During the investigation, Norwegian defense forces were told that the deep distrust between military commanders could easily lead to misunderstandings and, at worst, refusal of orders.
– I felt serious and responsible. Colonel Paul Harald Swarstad said in the witness box that there was a big risk that the department would not perform as expected.
He is the head of the Personnel and Conscription Center of the Norwegian Armed Forces.
Defense believes internal unrest within the department is a key part of this assessment.
– Staff roamed around like zombies
The sacked officer has taken legal action against the Ministry of Defense for illegal dismissal.
On the other hand, Major General Elisabeth Mikkelsen believes that the Norwegian Armed Forces have very good reasons for decommissioning.
He says there is ample documentation that he lacks the ability and desire to correct what he believes are extremely poor working conditions in the department.
In autumn 2021 many staff were “walking around like zombies”, the security commissioner told the court.
– There are many cases where people have had bad experiences, he said.
In February 2022, the Defense Commissioner issued a notification on the status of the workplace. Among other things, it said there was a culture of fear.
Beyond the spring of 2022, it culminated with many conflicts in the workplace, with accusations of alliance-building, closed doors, and rumor-mongering.
But – Defence’s own internal audit has revealed serious flaws in Defence’s handling of the conflict..
An outside law firm dismissed several allegations made against the officer by one of his subordinates.
– High salary plus additional catch
The parties in the case disagree profoundly as to what causes the poor working conditions.
The defense believes that the officer’s poor leadership was behind it and it is his responsibility to correct it in any case.
However, the officer’s lawyer, Edward Bucke, believes he has been manipulated and subjected to unfair criticism.
– It is clear that a manager gets completely fired when he receives unfair notice against him and is opposed by his subordinates, Bakke said during the hearing.
Bakke believes the officer became unpopular because he grabbed the higher-paying projects that many officers had during their military training.
Among other things, there was provision for a senior officer to be “supervised” 24 hours a day during training. This resulted in higher salary increases.
– A subordinate sent notices against him four times. His motivation was the salary, Bakke told the court.
In her proceedings, Elizabeth Stenwick said she was horrified to hear the case would be about money and wages.
– There is nothing wrong with understanding the contractual structure for wages, but it should be done in conjunction with the employees. These changes have not been consolidated in the sector, he said.
The “whistleblowing general” received a warning against him
But the trial at Oslo District Court is in a special state for other reasons as well.
In the summer of 2022, the officer was actually fired shortly after serving a notice against Elizabeth Michelson.
– This is illegal retaliation, says lawyer Bakke.
– Whistleblowers have special protection under the law.
The peculiarity of this case is that Mikkelsen has been appointed precisely to lead the Norwegian Armed Forces’ work against bullying and harassment.
Claims compensation of NOK 250,000
His lawyer, Elizabeth Stenwick, hopes to prove he was unaware of the announcement.
He also hopes to prove that the decision to fire the officer was actually taken at the end of June.
Just before the summer vacation, the idea is to take the officer into consideration without giving such a drastic message.
Lawyer Eduard Bakke hopes to get at least NOK 250,000 in compensation for the officer.
A verdict in the case is likely to come by the end of the month.
“Music geek. Coffee lover. Devoted food scholar. Web buff. Passionate internet guru.”