A pregnant solo mother sacked a week before Christmas for allegedly stealing a $35 T-shirt has been awarded almost $20,000 for wrongful dismissal.

Olivia Chaney was five months pregnant when she was fired as the assistant manager of Christchurch clothing store Surreal, at the Westfield Mall in Riccarton, on December 18 last year.

Ms Chaney told the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) she intended to buy two T-shirts that came together in a $69 boxed set on December 13.

She wore one of the T-shirts straight away, because it was hot, and placed the other one on top of her bag.


The usual procedure for buying store items was to notify the manager, who would note the purchase in a diary. Staff could then take the items immediately, without paying, and settle payment over a number of weeks.

Store manager Shelley Winika was away at the time, so Ms Chaney took the items and later told company owner Lydia Luo, who she said noted the purchase in the diary.

Ms Luo denied noting the purchase of the items.

When Ms Winika returned four days later, she asked Ms Chaney whether she had taken a T-shirt from one of two boxed sets while she was away.

Ms Chaney asked if there was a problem, and was told Ms Luo had a problem. She was fired at a disciplinary meeting the following day.

Her dismissal letter said the removal of items from the store, without permission or the knowledge of any staff, constituted serious misconduct.

The letter did not specify the removed items, but only one of the two T-shirts was raised at the meeting.

Ms Chaney raised a grievance with the ERA, claiming lost wages and loss of paid maternity leave for her daughter, who was born in April.

She also claimed compensation for hurt and humiliation, saying her dismissal caused considerable financial stress because she was pregnant and a single mother.

Ms Chaney said she was unable to buy items for her baby and had to undergo blood tests and extra midwife appointments due to the stress of being dismissed.

The ERA found no evidence Ms Chaney had taken the T-shirt without intending to pay for it. However, it found Ms Chaney's failure to record the T-shirt purchase contributed to the situation that gave rise to her grievance.

The ERA ordered Surreal to pay $12,147.40 in lost wages, including parental leave, and $5600 in compensation. The company was also ordered to pay $1821.56 in costs and filing fees.