Judge overturns decision to award sacked Dunnes worker €8k over eating chicken wings
A Dunnes Stores deli assistant, who was sacked after admitting she had eaten chicken wings and goujons without paying for them, has lost the €8,000 compensation the Employment Appeals Tribunal awarded her for unfair dismissal.
Judge Jacqueline Linnane in the Circuit Civil Court today told barrister Marcus Dowling, counsel for Dunnes, there were substantial grounds justifying the company’s “fair decision” to dismiss her along with seven other members of staff.
The judge overturned the Tribunal’s finding and dismissed a claim by Karen Deegan who, in a cross appeal, had asked the court to increase her compensation award.
The EAT had found that while she had contributed substantially to her own downfall in the loss of her job at the Knocknacarra, Galway, branch of Dunnes, in October 2011 she had still been unfairly dismissed
Deegan was sacked from her job as delicatessen assistant after she was caught on a concealed camera eating about €10 worth of chicken wings and goujons over several days in October 2011. But when called before management she had admitted having done so for more than a year.
Store manager Ken Teehan told the court he had a covert camera installed after a whistleblower had reported to Dunnes Store head office, on a confidential phone link, that staffers were eating from the hot food section without paying.
He said he had considered it a serious breach of company policy which, the court heard, had been specifically outlined to all employees when inducted and afterwards in refresher courses.
Mr Teehan and assistant manager Louise Mannion said Ms Deegan had admitted eating the food without paying for it and had admitted to doing this for more than a year beforehand. She had agreed she had breached company policy regarding the stocking and consumption of product and had known it was wrong.
Ms Deegan told the court she never realised the punishment would be so harsh. She expected to have been suspended for a couple of weeks or to have been given a pay cut. She had been the first staff member to have been caught on the secret camera but knew on her way to the office what the call-up most likely was about.
She told her counsel Alan Ledwith that a close family member had been ill in hospital at the time and she had spent lunch breaks continually phoning the hospital and, after returning to work, had eaten coujons, wings and potato cubes.
Judge Linnane, awarding costs against Deegan, noted that Dunnes Stores would not pursue costs if the matter was not appealed further.
“There was not only a breach of company policy of which she was aware but there was a breach of trust,” the judge said. “Seven members of staff were dismissed with her for similar breaches.”