When a woman reported being yelled at and later arrived at work to find the locks changed she was told, “There’s no more work for you.”
Now, the Employment Relations Authority has awarded her more than $30,000 for the humiliation of being left in a carpark with no answers.
Virtuoso Strings Charitable Trust provides stringed instrument tuition to rangatahi, primarily Pasifika students, in the Wellington area.
Mere Faraimo was employed by the trust as an events and public relations co-ordinator between April 2020 and March 2022 when she claimed she faced verbal abuse from a co-worker on two occasions.
Faraimo said the co-worker “snapped at her with an accusatory loud voice” and called her a “liar” and a “b****”.
Faraimo made a formal written complaint which resulted in a meeting with the co-worker that yielded no resolution.
After a change of board members and no follow-up almost five months later, Faraimo was told her complaint was resolved.
She received an email from a board member, Graeme Ogilvie, who said he didn’t think it was appropriate to recycle the same complaint just because there was a new board.
“You say it is an unresolved complaint. The new board was not aware this is your view.
“We can’t turn the clock back,” the email from Ogilvie said.
Ogilvie and another board member, Elizabeth Sneyd, told Faraimo a new policy for handling complaints had been put in place, specifically requested by the co-worker Faraimo had complained about.
Neither Ogilvie nor Sneyd were able to provide evidence to the ERA of how the complaint had been handled.
Faraimo told the ERA she felt alone, unsafe, ignored and marginalised waiting for a resolution.
“They just left me out in limbo,” Faraimo said.
Stressed from her situation, Faraimo went on sick leave but the situation escalated.
As the end of her sick leave approached on October 6, 2021, she received an email from the board stating it “did not see any reasonable basis for paying for any further leave”.
Two days later Faraimo received another email saying the board could not see any scope for her to carry out any further duties and her role was being reviewed.
Faraimo raised a personal grievance on November 9 and was cleared by her doctor to return to work in January following the summer break.
She discovered she was locked out when she arrived at work in January 2022.
Her keys didn’t work, calls to a board member went unanswered, and she was also locked out of the electronic systems.
The board claimed they changed the locks because there was no work for her.
Authority member Claire English said the heart of the dispute was Faraimo’s claim that the trust failed to investigate her complaint, resulting in unjustified disadvantages.
“Both Mr Ogilvie and Ms Sneyd maintained that Ms Faraimo’s complaint had been resolved, based on a verbal indication they say was given to them by another who was not called to give evidence.
“These actions were not sufficient to constitute a meaningful response to the serious concerns raised. The trust’s insistence that Ms Faraimo’s complaint had been resolved is unsupportable in the face of the lack of evidence of any resolution coupled with Ms Faraimo’s statements that she was unaware of any investigation or resolution,” the decision said.
“An employee may expect their employer to take their concerns seriously and to engage with them in an appropriate manner rather than brushing inconvenient concerns aside.”
The ERA found the trust had received a complaint about Faraimo from Sneyd and the co-worker in June 2021 which was not disclosed to Faraimo and only became apparent in 2023 through the ERA investigation.
“Not only did Ms Faraimo not know of the complaints against her, and was therefore required to make important decisions about her employment in the absence of this relevant information, she was also deprived of the opportunity to comment on what was said about her and to respond and put her explanation forward for her employer to consider. This amounts to an unjustified disadvantage.”
The authority member also found the changing of the locks caused Faraimo embarrassment and was an unjustified suspension.
“By changing the locks for the workplace, and then refusing to give Ms Faraimo a new key when she had held one previously, the trust breached Ms Faraimo’s right to work.
“The trust’s position that this didn’t matter as there was no work available, or that Ms Faraimo should have tried harder, does not answer the problem that its unilateral actions have caused.
“If it was the case that ‘there were no work duties for Ms Faraimo to carry out’ the solution would have been to consult with her about the impacts on her employment, not to bar her from the workplace.”
Faraimo was awarded $25,000 in compensation for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings and $10,571 in lost wages.
Chair for the board of Virtuoso Strings, Dr Hongzhi Gao, told NZME it was still considering the decision by the ERA and had no further comment at this stage.
NZME approached Faraimo for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
Shannon Pitman is a Whangārei based reporter for Open Justice covering courts in the Te Tai Tokerau region. She is of Ngāpuhi/Ngāti Pūkenga descent and has worked in digital media for the past five years. She joined NZME in 2023.