$67K for unfair dismissal and false sex-site claims

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An Auckland employer must pay more than $67,000 in reparations after the Employment Relations Authority found the organisation had unfairly fired a long-tenure employee.

The employer at the centre of the controversy – Aurora Law Limited (ALL) – claimed it had never fired consultant solicitor Kerry Stace and said he had simply left the company after bosses raised concerns about his work and conduct.

Stace – who had been employed with law firm von Sturmer Ringer for 41 years before the company was purchased by ALL in 2014 – had recently entered a new employment agreement which stated his contract “shall be up to three years but a minimum of two years."

However, Waiuku-based Stace was dismissed from his role later that year and went on pursue a claim of unjustified dismissal.

According to court documents, one of the company’s initial concerns was that 72-year-old Stace was undertaking paid work as a notary public without putting his earnings through ALL’s books.

However, member of authority Robin Arthur confirmed the extra work was not part of ALL's business and did not fall under Stace’s duties of employment.

Another contentious issue came in regards to a letter that ALL’s director Mandy Rush sent to Stace shortly before his dismissal.

In the correspondence, Rush said she was aware Stace has been accessing “sex related websites” at work that were “highly inappropriate in the workplace of a law firm.”

Again, the ERA found that there was no evidence to support Rusk’s allegation – in fact, authority member Arthur noted that the recently-single Stace had only accessed social media and dating sites within a “reasonable level of personal use.”

At a meeting where Rusk raised her concerns, she told Stace she felt their working relationship had deteriorated and he should consider taking an early retirement. A letter indicating that Rusk believed Stace's employment with ALL was at an end was delivered to him three days after.

Ultimately, the ERA found that ALL had constructively dismissed Stace and awarded him $60,576 in lost income plus $7,000 for the loss of dignity and injury to his feelings.
HRM approached Aurora Law Limited for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
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