A woman who was wrongly fired for stealing a $1 bag of chips from her work spent more on her legal costs than what she received in compensation.
Kaye Gillan was awarded $23,243.82 in compensation and lost wages by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) after she was found to have been unjustifiably dismissed by her employer, Birchleigh Management Limited.
But her legal costs for co-representation amounted to $35,878.97, of which she sought to recover the full amount in court.
Gillan – a caregiver who had worked for Birchleigh since 2004 – submitted to the authority the she should get full costs because the case lasted nearly two years and Birchleigh, without conscience, had forced her to undergo a full trial.
Gillan said Birchleigh "ignored the pleading" of a Queens Counsel and that clearly has a massive impact on the costs application.
In response, Birchleigh said the length of time it took for the matter to progress through the authority was not their doing, and the proceedings did not require the significant amount of additional interlocutory matters that were raised by Gillan.
Gillan had been fired from her job at a Mosgiel rest home after taking a small packet of potato chips from a cupboard where refreshments for Birchleigh residents were kept in June 2016.
That snack resulted in Birchleigh management calling Gillan to a meeting, at which she denied dishonest intent but accepted she had taken the chips. Birchleigh - which has strict policies concerning security of residents' property - found Gillan's actions to be serious misconduct and dismissed her.
In its ruling, the authority decided not to award Gillan full costs, instead ordering Birchleigh to pay her $8000 towards her costs.
The authority said Gillan's case was never a case in which such a high total of representation costs should have been incurred, nor was co-representation at the investigation meeting necessary to support her.
Gillan's criticism of Birchleigh forcing her to undergo a full trial was misguided, said the authority, and just as Gillan had a right to bring her personal grievance claim against Birchleigh, Birchleigh, who did not consider it had unjustifiably dismissed Gillan, was entitled to defend her claims against it, and neither party was "forced" to do anything.
The authority said it may be that Gillan values her moral victory highly.