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Sainsbury’s worker wins unfair dismissal case in race row

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

In the case of Cunnington v Sainsburys Mrs Cunnington had worked for Sainsburys for 28 years. On the day of the incident Mrs Cunnington was working a morning shift with a long-term work colleague. She picked up a cuddly toy, a black rabbit named Bing.

She then told a tribunal that she had asked colleagues: “Should we really be selling this toy? Black Lives Matter.” In her evidence, Ms Cunnington said she felt that the toy could be offensive to black people in the same way as the banned Golly mascot for Robertson’s jam.

Ms Cunnington was dismissed for gross misconduct after a colleague alleged the comment she made was racist.

But a tribunal in Birmingham ruled in June the former price controller was unfairly sacked.

The judge said “sensitivities were heightened at the time of the incident”, which took place two weeks after George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was murdered by white police officer Derek Chauvin in the US, sparking worldwide protests over racial inequality.

The judge’s ruling added “It is all the more reason to take great care that proper procedures are followed thoroughly, objectively and fairly so that justice can be done.

“Given the size and resources of [Sainsbury’s], the fact that so many fundamental procedural errors were made is unacceptable… the process followed was a disservice to [Ms Cunnington] and also to [Sainsbury’s] cause to being an inclusive employer.

“In summary the decision to dismiss was not well founded and is unfair.”

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