Pilgrim v Attorney General 2022 NZEmpC 53

Employment Court - Girls

Were six former female residents of the Gloriavale Christian Community employees during their time there? Were they working in conditions akin to servitude and slavery?

Overview of the Case

Gloriavale is described as a self-sustaining Christian Community with its 550 residents living what might be referred to as a communal lifestyle. It is made up of a Trust, a Partnership, a nominee company, a holding company, and a number of limited liability trading companies to operate a variety of commercial enterprises, including a honey making plant and a dairy farm.

Serenity Pilgrim, Anna Courage, , Rose Standtrue, Crystal Loyal,  Pearl Valor and Virginia Courage were all born into the Community and carried out various forms of domestic work starting from a young age. All six of them left Gloriavale and sought a declaration in the court that they were employees when performing work for the Community.

The case is bring brought against the Attorney General in the first instance, due to alleged failure of the State to recognise the employment status of the girls during 2015/16 and 2020/21 investigations.

The second defendants are the Gloriavale Shepherds.

The Gloriavale defendants denied that the plaintiffs were employees. They claimed that the young ladies were simply participating in household and family chores. There was no intention to enter into an employment relationship at any stage.

Click here to read a Daily Vale post which details the long road to the Employment Court. It follows the journey of leavers speaking up in the media, failed Government investigations, and finally a team of lawyers who were able to drive it to the courts.

The Lead up to the Case

  • The lead up to the case was filled with drama. The Girls’ case was filed just as the Boys’ Employment case was getting underway in Feb/March 2022. The judge granted an application for urgency stating,

“While none of the plaintiffs remain at Gloriavale, the application for urgency is advanced on the basis that other females, including young girls, who do remain there are being subjected to the same treatment that they allege they endured and that this is giving rise to serious concerns about their ongoing safety. Those concerns are set out in an affidavit filed in support of the application.”

The application is essentially advanced on the basis that a fair-minded lay observer may reasonably apprehend that I might be biased when deciding the case in light of the fact that I recently heard and determined a preliminary issue in a related proceeding, namely Courage v Attorney General.”

She declined the request and will remain as the trial judge for the Girl’s Employment Case starting  29 August 2022. Read the Daily Vale for more details.

  • In July 2022 Gloriavale received the Affidavits from the plaintiffs and witnesses and subsequently requested 297 paragraphs be removed, along with two full briefs of evidence.

“Mr Skelton QC, counsel for the second defendants said the briefs of evidence which had been filed for the plaintiffs presented a dark picture of life in Gloriavale in general and a wide-range of grievances against the second defendants. He submitted that large portions of the evidence had no relevance, or alternatively, very little relevance, to whether or not the plaintiffs were employees of the second defendants. Much of it was scandalous in nature and gave every appearance of having been included to embarrass or prejudice the second defendants.”

Mr Skelton summarised the second defendants’ objections, saying that their concerns fell into several broad categories:

(a) allegations of lying, dishonesty, theft, bribery, and misleading government agencies;
(b) allegations of minimising tax obligations and maximising government benefits;
(c) allegations that Gloriavale residents were not provided with adequate dental or healthcare;
(d) allegations (or insinuations) of sexual abuse or harassment;
(e) alleged physical abuse of young children;
(f) egregious hearsay;
(g) other irrelevant evidence that could only have been included for its prejudicial effect;
(h) evidence about the state of mind of persons other than the witness; and
(i) opinion, often verging on submission, characterising Gloriavale and life in the community in a negative fashion.

A different judge oversaw this process and allowed a large majority of the content to remain stating.

“In short, the plaintiffs have pleaded a broad range of examples of the way they lived their lives at Gloriavale may be relevant to the issue of control. The examples they give will, on the plaintiffs’ case, be part of the broad inquiry. It is clear from the authorities referred to earlier that evidence which is scandalous may nonetheless be relevant and therefore admissible.”

Read more in the Daily Vale post.

  • August 2022 Gloriavale surveys its members in a most extraordinary fashion, creating what ex-members consider to be a blacklist of people they do NOT want to speak on their behalf. Read the Daily Vale post for more details. The survey hits the media and causes a big stir and some amusement among people who have left Gloriavale.

The Timeline

2022

Girls' Court Case Filed

Serenity Pilgrim, Anna Courage, Rose Standtrue, Crystal Loyal,  Pearl Valor and Virginia Courage were all born into the Community and carried out various forms of domestic work starting from a young age. All six of them left Gloriavale and sought a declaration in the court that they were employees when performing work for the Community.

March 23, 2022
August 3, 2022

Inadmissibility Hearing

Gloriavale received the Affidavits from the plaintiffs and witnesses and subsequently requested 297 paragraphs be removed, along with two full briefs of evidence stating it was either scandalous, hearsay, opinion or irrelevant.
August 11, 2022

Gloriavale Survey

Gloriavale surveys its members in a most extraordinary fashion, and calls for more witnesses to "protect the Community".  The survey hits the media and causes a big stir among people who have left Gloriavale.

August 17, 2022

Girls' Court Case Begins

Today the Employment Court started a five-week hearing to determine whether Serenity Pilgrim, Anna Courage, Rose Standtrue, Crystal Loyal,  Pearl Valor and Virginia Courage were employees when performing various forms of domestic work for the Gloriavale Community.

August 29, 2022