15th July 2021
15th July 2021
For the benefit of those who have never seen “Bing”, it is a cartoon rabbit that is the main character of a series that shares his name. The show is aimed at children to teach them life lessons, below we see how this fictional bunny helped teach Sainsbury’s a lesson.
Marian Cunnington had worked for Sainsbury’s for 28 years and held the role of a Price Controller.
On the 11 June 2020, whilst working in the Shropshire store, she came across a toy of Bing in one of the aisles. There is some dispute as to what exactly happened but her colleague asserted that they heard Ms Cunnington say “I’m offended Black Lives Matter?”. Ms Cunnington insists that she said “should we really be selling this toy? Black Lives Matter”.
The colleague reported the incident to Sainsburys management who suspended Ms Cunnington and, following an alleged perfunctory disciplinary process, summarily dismissed her on the 2 July 2020 for gross misconduct.
Throughout the process, Ms Cunnington asserted that she had been standing up for the Black Lives Matter movement. Regardless, her appeal to overturn her dismissal was rejected.
Ms Cunnington sought relief at Tribunal, bringing claims of wrongful and unfair dismissal as she condemned the racist allegation saying she felt the toy could be offensive to black people, in the same way as the Robertson’s jam mascot.
To put this story in some context, the comments came only a couple of weeks after the murder of George Floyd on the 25 May 2020 and the judge accepted that sensitivities were high.
Despite the above, the Judge found in favour of Ms Cunnington. Sainsbury’s were unable to explain how or why her colleague had taken offence and therefore the Tribunal determined that the decision to dismiss was ‘not well founded and unfair’.
Ultimately, the decision seems to have fallen on the disciplinary process which the Tribunal found was ‘unacceptable that a company the size of Sainsbury’s had made so many fundamental procedural errors’.
This case exemplifies the importance of a thorough, objective and fair process to ensure that justice can prevail. It is insufficient to have a knee-jerk reaction, even when matters are hyper-sensitive and organisations want to be seen to be doing the right thing, at the expense of their employees.
If you would like to discuss any employment issues, arising from this article, please do not hesitate to speak to a member of the employment team on 01325 466794 and ask for Anthony Willis or Alexander Millward. Alternatively email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.