A Synlait Milk trader was let go for selling dairy products to the sanctioned country of Sudan without his managers' knowledge.
In a recently released decision, the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) upheld Synlait's decision to dismiss James Wynn-Williams for serious misconduct in December 2016.
Wynn-Williams brought the case to the ERA claiming he was unjustifiably dismissed and subject to disadvantage as a consequence of the employment investigation, seeking reimbursement and compensation.
The ERA was told that Synlait had previously given an undertaking to its bank, ANZ, not to engage in export dealings with certain countries including Sudan, otherwise known as North Sudan or the Republic of Sudan.
"Seemingly the need for the undertaking related to the ANZ's banking licence in the United States, rather than any United Nations sanctions or other trade embargoes," the ERA decision says.
However, in May 2016 Wynn-Williams said he had been introduced to a third-party trader, Ausfine, by a colleague who was interested in selling product into various markets including the war-torn north African nation.
Wynn-Williams, who at that time was Synlait's trader and distribution manager, forwarded the proposal to his then-manager but received no reply. He went ahead and organised for 400 tonnes of product to be sold to Ausfine.
Wynn-Williams told the ERA it was his impression that the rules set out by ANZ meant Synlait could not directly export to Sudan but indirect exports were permissible, provided a third party completed the documentation.
In October that year, Ausfine expressed an interest in further, larger orders to Sudan. Wynn-Williams said he again inquired with his boss to see whether to go ahead with the deal.
"Mr Wynn-Williams said because he did not hear back ... and because the sale proposed was indirect dealing with Sudan, he presumed there was no issue with it going ahead," the decision says.
The company's financial controller, Casey Blatch, said it had been "foolhardy" to presume from silence there was no issue with the proposed sale.
Wynn-Williams' manager, Chris France, said he spoke to him about the serious implications of any direct or indirect trading with a sanctioned country.
"Mr France said at no time during that conversation did Mr Wynn Williams advise him he had already entered into contracts where the destination was Sudan," the ERA decision says.
That November, ANZ was erroneously sent an export document for one of the Sudan orders and the bank raised its concerns with Synlait.
France carried out inquiries into the transactions and uncovered an email exchange between Wynn-Williams and a representative from Ausfine.
Wynn-Williams stated in the email: "Not to mention if I send any more product to Sudan I'll end up dead".
Wynn-Williams said that at the time of the email he believed indirect trade with Sudan was still acceptable.
His managers were adamant they had told Wynn-Williams that Synlait was not allowed to trade with Sudan or any other sanctioned country.
France said Wynn-Williams' actions and inactions had "seriously impacted the employment relationship to the point where he no longer had trust and confidence in him".
"Wynn-Williams' 'conduct irreparably damaged the relationship of trust and confidence and I did not believe that this could be restored given the serious nature of this conduct'," France told the ERA.
ERA member Andrew Dallas said it was clear that Wynn-Williams knew how serious the situation was and how seriously Synlait regarded it.
There was no evidence of "scapegoating", as Wynn-Williams had claimed, nor that the decision to dismiss him had been pre-determined.
He found Synlait's investigation had been procedurally fair and the finding of serious misconduct was available to the company. Wynn-Williams' dismissal was "within the range of reasonable responses", Dallas said.
Synlait did not want to provide a comment as the decision could still be appealed.
Wynn-Williams' lawyer could not be reached for comment.