Sainsbury's worker unfairly dismissed over Black Lives Matter comment

The Employment Tribunal has ruled that a Sainsbury’s worker who lost her job over a comment about Black Lives Matter (BLM) was unfairly dismissed.

Mrs M Cunnington was a price controller and had worked for the supermarket chain since 1992. During the BLM protests in 2020, she was accused of joking about how a toy in the shape of a black rabbit had caused her offence.

Cunnington denied making a joke. She told the tribunal that what she said was: “Do you think we should be selling these in the light of what is going on with Black Lives Matter?”

However, a co-worker claimed that she said: “I’m offended, Black Lives Matter.”

The co-worker confronted Cunnington, who then apologised.

However, the co-worker then raised a formal complaint with the customer and trading manager, Mrs Brooklin, who conducted several fact-finding interviews.

However, she did not get the interviewees to check and sign her notes as required under Sainsbury’s fair treatment policy.

Cunnington was suspended for gross misconduct. Despite this, she was not given the details of the allegations against her.

Cunnington attended a disciplinary meeting with Mr Cowsill, operations manager at another Sainsbury’s store. He thought Cunnington had received the disciplinary documents but did not check.

He decided to dismiss Cunnington, saying that she had breached the equality diversity and inclusion policy yet showed “minimal remorse through the process”.

The Employment ruled that the dismissal was unfounded and unfair.

Sainsbury’s had not followed its fair treatment policy and had failed to consider Cunnington’s unblemished work record. During the disciplinary meetings, she had not been given full details of the allegations against her or which section of the company’s policy she had breached.

The tribunal described the suspension as “nonsensical”. No alternatives were considered, despite the company policy that suspension should be a “last resort”.

Judge Richardson said: “Given the size and resources of [Sainsbury’s], the fact that so many fundamental procedural errors were made is unacceptable.”

Compensation will be decided at a separate hearing.

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