Warehouse went too far with firing

KIRSTY JOHNSTON
Last updated 13:06 17/01/2014

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A security guard who called a customer an "arrogant p****" and was accused of being racist was unjustifiably dismissed.

Margaret Maria Harris, a "loss prevention officer" at The Warehouse in Kaikohe, was sacked after she asked a couple to take their dog out of the shop in early last year, the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) said in a decision released today.

The couple later complained, saying Harris was intimidating and had made derogatory comments about white people, including that "Maori people wouldn't behave like that".

Harris was fired for serious misconduct despite the letter of complaint also containing racist and "obnoxious" remarks - this time directed at Maori, the ERA said.

The incident unfolded after Harris spotted the couple and their dog near a checkout on an afternoon in February 2013.

She asked them to leave, and when they ignored her, she walked away, saying "arrogant p****" as she did so.

According to witnesses, both the couple in question and other customers heard the statement, the ERA said.

Harris then shouted across the floor again for the couple to leave.

When the wife finally removed the dog to the foyer area, Harris followed to explain the store's dog policy. A pair of Maori Wardens interfered, and all three were seen on CCTV gesturing at the woman and apparently telling her she would be trespassed, the ERA said.

A store investigation found Harris had behaved intimidatingly. However, while the customer complained Harris had been racist, The Warehouse could not confirm the complaint, with other witnesses saying it had been the Maori Wardens who made the comments about white people.

Harris was dismissed for failing to defuse the situation. The Warehouse said her actions made the customers feel embarrassed and threatened.

However, in its decision ERA member Eleanor Robinson ruled the store had gone too far with its dismissal.

It said a fair employer would have sanctioned Harris for misconduct, but not fired her. The authority ruled that Harris should receive no compensation due to her own contribution to the situation.

This story has been corrected to remove information that Harris had won her job back. The ERA did not order The Warehouse to reinstate Harris. We apologise for the error.

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- Fairfax Media

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