Manager fired after series of rumours and leaked info

A Christchurch woman has won $20,000 from her ex-employer after a series of rumours and leaked information - including the plan to replace her with a "younger woman in a short skirt" - resulted in an unjustifiable dismissal.

Maree Humphries was made redundant from her job as marketing manager at Blue Star Taxis in Christchurch last year.

Prior to her dismissal in July a series of rumours, leaked information, and miscommunication made its way around the office.

Ms Humphries complained to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) that she had been unjustifiably dismissed from her job.

In April or early May of last year Blue Star General Manager Bob Wilkinson held a meeting with Ms Humphries in which he said she had to look for a new job.

The Board of Directors had recently discussed her role and had concluded it should be disestablished and replaced by a lower level sales role, which was what prompted Mr Wilkinson to talk with her.

A few days later one of the taxi drivers told Ms Humphries the board wanted to get rid of her and the board had already been telling drivers she had gone.

"Understandably this news had left Ms Humphries feeling very insecure and uncertain in relation to her job and stressed by the situation," ERA member David Appleton said in his findings.

A few days later Mr Wilkinson told Ms Humphries her job was safe and a considerable amount of time had been spent persuading the board it should not dismiss her.

Mr Wilkinson then handed her a letter which he had written to the the board's chairman.

In the letter it said "a member of the society approached me and asked why the board were sacking Maree as he felt that she was doing a good job. He went on to say that a board member had advised him that the plan was to replace her with a younger woman in a short skirt that only worked three days."

"The comments from the member were so accurate that I had no doubt that a board member had discussed the matter with a non board member."

By accident Ms Humphries then discovered a copy of the draft minutes which stated her role would be disestablished, which confirmed to Ms Humphries all the rumours she had heard.

A few weeks later she became even more confused and bewildered when she received a pay rise.

Finally on July 7 last year Mr Wilkinson asked Ms Humphries to go outside for a smoke with him.

He then produced a letter which said her role was being disestablished because the recent earthquakes and subsequent loss of income from reduced work and abandoned shares had a serious impact on the company's revenue.

Ms Humphries took her dismissal to the ERA and said her redundancy was a sham because there had always been an intention to dismiss her.

ERA member David Appleton found there was a genuine need to make an urgent saving and the most effective way of doing so was to disestablish Ms Humphries' role.

It had not always been the intention of the business to replace Ms Humphries' role because, while some board members always wanted to terminate the role, the chairman did not.

However, Blue Star Taxis did not carry out a full and fair consultation in relation to a proposed redundancy and therefore there was a breach of the employment agreement, and she was unjustifiably dismissed.

Blue Star Taxis was ordered to pay Ms Humphries $10,000 in relation to the disadvantage she suffered in her employment due to the leaking of information and $10,000 for the disadvantage caused by the wilful failure to consult with her about the disestablishment of her role.

Blue Star Taxis today refused to comment on the ruling.

Ms Humphries could not be reached for comment.

- APNZ

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