Nikki Preston is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Bus driver acquitted of sexual assault to keep $51,000 in backpay

The Court of Appeal today upheld the original decision by the Employment Court. Photo / Nick Reed
The Court of Appeal today upheld the original decision by the Employment Court. Photo / Nick Reed

A North Shore bus driver acquitted of sexually assaulting passengers will get to keep $51,995 in backpay awarded by the Employment Court after Ritchies' appeal failed.

The Court of Appeal has today upheld the original decision by the Employment Court, which found Ritchies Transport had wrongly dismissed bus driver Keerithi Merennage.

Police laid two charges of sexual assault against Mr Merennage but a jury later found him not guilty.

In the Court of Appeal judgment, Justice John Wild supported the ERA's findings that the bus company's decision to dismiss was unjustified because it was not open-minded during the investigation and decision-making process.

The court dismissed the three questions from Ritchies' lawyer challenging the Employment Court's decision not to pay Mr Merennage while he was suspended, whether serious misconduct had taken place and whether the Employment Court had failed by refusing to permit a cross examination of the bus driver of his alleged serious misconduct of sexual assault.

When the Employment Court decision was released in 2014, Ritchies Transport director Andrew Ritchie said the decision was "appalling" and "incorrect" and defended the company's processes.

Mr Merennage's lawyer John Clearwater responded that his client had been through hell and back for no reason and had suffered financial hardship. But he said his client was prepared to fight to the bitter end.

Ritchies was also ordered to pay Mr Merennage's costs for a standard application for leave to appeal.

- NZ Herald

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