A company that fired a woman from its Wakefield office for allegedly being a Nazi sympathiser has been ordered to pay her more than $35,000.
The owner of the company, Tony Katavich, said today he would appeal the "ridiculous decision" in the Employment Court.
The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) said in a decision released yesterday that it did not believe the employee, Mia Nelson, had neo-Nazi views, or was trying to bring Nazi ideas into the office.
United States-born Ms Nelson was employed as a writer and researcher for a company called Haldeman LLC in May 2011.
She was quickly promoted to a management position by Mr Katavich. As part of the promotion, he said she should move from the Invercargill office to the Wakefield office, to benefit her financially, and to help run the company smoothly.
She was given a $10,000 "encouragement payment" to relocate.
Ms Nelson said one of her main tasks at work was to create false blogs using search terms that would trick Google's search engine, bringing the company's website to prominence on the Google search page. But in May 2012, she attended a former staff member's barbecue, an employee Mr Katavich said had left on bad terms.
When Ms Nelson arrived to her office the next week, all the furniture had been removed and her desk and chair were pushed into the corner of the room.
Ms Nelson told the ERA it was "basically turned into a cell and positioned so as to put me in the dunce hat corner." She said she felt humiliated because everyone was talking about it and did not know what it was about or why it was in that state at the time.
Mr Katavich then asked Ms Nelson to drive out to a cabin in Brightwater, known as the "remote office" or "the cottage", to find out if people had spoken ill of him at the gathering. She said they had not.
But Mr Katavich later sent an email saying she had failed to tell him about the event, saying it was a "major error of judgment".
"I am aware a company event of sorts transpired on Friday evening to which some knucklehead(s) omitted to invite me," he emailed. "A repeat will see the culprit(s) Christmas bonus withdrawn, and a declaration of elephant mouth."
After several failed meetings, Ms Nelson was suspended for setting up a "Nazi sympathising email address", which included "hitlerhatesbabies", and using the password ilovehitler.
Mr Katavitch said he was worried about the company's name being associated with neo-Nazi ideas. He also said she lied on her resume.
However, Ms Nelson said because it was her job to create several email addresses, and because more conventional addresses had been taken, she had to think of unusual word sequences to come up with a unique one.
ERA member David Appleton said it did not believe Ms Nelson was trying to associate her employer with Hitler, or to bring neo-Nazi views into the workplace. "I also do not believe Ms Nelson did harbour neo-Nazi views."
He said he found her evidence to be candid and credible.
Mr Katavich's company was ordered to pay her over $35,000 in arrears of wages, lost wages arising from her dismissal, and for unfair dismissal.
Ms Nelson, who lives in Invercargill and recently worked as a personal assistant to mayor Tim Shadbolt, said last night she was happy her name had been cleared.
Mr Katavich said the decision was "a disgrace" and he would appeal because it set a bad precedent.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Which do you think is the quote of the year?Related story: Best quotes? Cats, sweat and Aaron Gilmore