Employee accused of sexual assault awarded $80K for unfair dismissal

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The Employment Court has ruled in favour of a bus driver who was suspended without pay and later dismissed after being charged with sexually assaulting a female passenger. 

North Shore bus driver Keerithi Merennage took former employer Ritchies Coachlines to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) last year, where he won his claim of unjustifiable dismissal.

Ritchies subsequently appealed the decision – but the court ruled in favour of Merennage once again, awarding him over $80,000 for unfair treatment.

The dismissal

In November 2011, Merennage was accused of sexually assaulting one of his female passengers.

Shortly after the allegations were made against him, Merennage was charged by the police.

As a consequence of this, Ritchies suspended him without pay.

In a criminal trial, Merennage was found not guilty of the assault.

The backlash

In her decision, Judge Christina Inglis found Ritchies’ actions were not those of a fair and reasonable employer, and that the company had made procedural failings that “were not minor”.

These included the significant finding that Merennage’s employment agreement was breached by the company when they failed to pay him during his suspension. Ritchies was also found to have underpaid Merennage during a later period of paid suspension.

“He felt unsupported and branded by an employer who formed an adverse view from an early stage of the process, and who failed to adequately engage with him,” Judge Inglis said.

Merennage was awarded $15,500 for the hurt and humiliation he suffered, as well as $72,856 plus holiday pay for the period of suspension without pay, and $2819 for the period of paid leave that he was underpaid for.

The compensation was reduced by $20,860 because Merennage took up a job at a supermarket during his unpaid suspension without informing Ritchies.

The total amount he was awarded was finalised at just over $80,000.

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