NBR staffer who 'deserved to be fired' awarded $9600 for unjustified dismissal

A former National Business Review sales manager plans to appeal an Employment Relations Decision to penalise her $9000.
A former National Business Review sales manager plans to appeal an Employment Relations Decision to penalise her $9000.

A former advertising manager has been awarded $9600 after being unjustifiably sacked. But she was also penalised $9000 for for revealing confidential information.

Philippa Johnson was employed by Fourth Estate Holdings, which owns the National Business Review (NBR), for about a year before she was fired for failing to meet her targets.

After Johnson was sacked in October last year, NBR owner Todd Scott told other staff "she deserved to be fired".

Johnson went on to reveal confidential information about the NBR to her new employer, Conferenz.

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When Johnson took her case to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA), the NBR laid a counter claim against her alleging she had breached her employment agreement by taking confidential information.

Johnson had struggled to meet her targets after a restructure of the company's advertising department, but she assured the NBR she was on track. 

In September last year an employee who resigned told head of strategic partnership, Salim Khan, that Johnson was also looking to leave. 

Although Johnson assured Khan she would give NBR her full commitment, he was not convinced and took the matter to Scott.

With advertising revenue continuing to decline, Khan and Scott decided that NBR would prefer not to go through a disciplinary process with Johnson when there was no guarantee her performance would improve.

It was also decided NBR could not afford the losses it would incur during the performance process. 

Initially Khan hoped Johnson's would find another job quickly. But that did not happen.

At a meeting Khan gave Johnson two options; either she resign and be paid three months' remuneration, or go through a performance management process that would result in her being sacked.

Johnson asked for the options to be put in writing.

Later that day, Khan gave Johnson a termination letter and she left telling everyone she had been fired.

A parallel court case in the High Court in Auckland revealed Johnson had sent confidential information including revenue numbers, subscription numbers, NBR's print subscriber databases and the NBR's postcodes to her personal email.

It was later revealed she also shared this information with Conferenz, which later sacked her for doing so.

The authority found there were a number of serious defects in NBR's process that resulted in Johnson being treated unfairly.

"There was no investigation of any performance concerns before dismissal," it said.

Johnson claimed compensation of $50,000 for reputational damage, but the ERA said her claims did not warrant that amount considering her serious misconduct and reduced it to $8000. She was also awarded $1666 in lost wages.

However, Johnson was penalised $9000 for the breaches of her employment agreement.

​Johnson told Stuff said she was pleased she had won the case but was considering appealing the fine.

Todd Scott said he respected the authority's judgement and apologised to subscribers and advertisers whose details were stolen by Johnson.