A woman working in a high street store has won over £12,000 after her boss called her trainers ‘horrible orange things’ and ordered her to stop wearing them. New Look saleswoman Samantha Jackson said she felt bullied after her manager Kirsty Sherburn told her she should wear ‘more fashionable’ brands like Converse or Vans .
Ms Jackson said she needed to wear more comfortable trainers as she has a knee condition which makes it painful to stand all day without proper support. She eventually quit; however, an employment tribunal ruled that Ms Sherburn had no reason to criticize Samantha’s coaches and had therefore unfairly dismissed her, resulting in her being awarded £12,000 in compensation.
Ms Jackson worked as a sales assistant at the city’s Crystal Peaks store from September 2003 to April 2019, the Sheffield panel heard. She suffered a fall in college in 2018 which caused her knee to hyperflex, requiring her to wear sneakers with extra support.
In November 2018, Ms Jackson filed a grievance regarding an incident in the shop the previous August between Ms Jackson and her manager, Ms Sherburn. Of the incident, Ms Jackson said: ‘At the end of one particular day, Kirsty became extremely critical of the time I had spent serving a customer at a till at the close of business .
“There were actually issues with the workings of the till although Kirsty didn’t take the time to find out – she just berated me about it. At the same time she told me about the checkout, Kirsty also scolded me about what she described as inappropriate shoes. New Look does not have a set or rigid policy when it comes to shoes and, as Kirsty and New Look knew, I have a problem with my knee – hyperflexion.
“It’s a painful condition and I need shoes that are comfortable enough to be able to stand all day in the shop. In this case, the shoes were relatively new Nike sneakers. All shop workers also wear their own shoes (the shoes are not issued by New Look) and all are sneakers or other fashion shoes and none are or were better than the ones I wore at the time.
“During the incident, Kirsty told me in strident terms that my shoes weren’t suitable for the job and that she didn’t expect to see me again in those ‘horrible orange things’. She was pissed off and very heated during this exchange.
Ms Jackson also said she was ‘made to feel incompetent and treated like a naughty child’ and the incident should have been dealt with away from the workshop and customers. She continued: “As I turned to walk away, Kirsty said, ‘And by the way, you don’t have to wear those sneakers to work anymore.
“They were, in his opinion, unsightly and unsuitable for work, running trainers should not be worn and if I felt the need to wear similar shoes they would have to be Converse or Vans etc. . which are more fashionable. None of these shoe brands offer the same level of cushioning as the Nike sneakers I was recommended to wear.”
Ms Sherburn told the grievance inquiry that she saw Ms Jackson spend around 45 minutes on an item for a client, which ended up in a long queue. She said she spoke to Ms. Jackson, who told her “the checkout screen kept flashing”, to which she then responded by asking Ms. Jackson if she possibly needed refresher training.
Ms Sherburn said: “It wasn’t a heated conversation and I didn’t think it was meaningful. I noticed Sam’s trainers were really ugly. I said something like, ‘you can’t not wear these Sam’s, they’re too dirty’ I don’t mind the staff wearing designer shoes, which bothers some managers, but his were just too dirty.
“She would have been ok with wearing them on delivery, but not in the shop where the staff have to look presentable. They were scruffy and looked like they needed a wash.”
Although her grievance was dismissed, the court found that Ms Sherburn had no reason to criticize Ms Jackson’s shoes that day. Employment judge Jonathan Brain said: “We find that [Ms Jackson’s] the training shoes worn that day were not dirty.
“There was no evidence that there was a history of [Ms Jackson] coming to work with dirty shoes or inappropriate clothing. If she had, we’re confident it would have been picked up. We accept that Ms. Sherburn unreasonably blamed [Ms Jackson] the day of the crate and sneakers incident about the condition of her shoes and finds that she did so in a fit of anger or anger.
“It was because she was unhappy with [Ms Jackson] the time it took to process the transaction and the disruption it caused to his busy day.”
Ms Jackson told the court she went on sick leave due to work-related stress over the till incident, shortly before she filed her complaint. She didn’t come back to work. After her grievance was dismissed in 2019, she was invited to a mediation meeting which the court found was not conducted in a reasonable manner as there was “no genuine attempt at mediation”.
In April 2019, Ms Jackson resigned and in her resignation letter she complained that she had not received the full sick pay due to her – the court also found that the calculations made by New Look were wrong. The miscalculated sick pay as well as the ‘cash and trainers incident’ and the handling of his grievance were all reasons for his resignation.
The court ruled that these failures by New Look constituted a breach of trust, resulting in wrongful dismissal. Judge Brain concluded: “We find that Kirsty Sherburn’s conduct on the day of the crate and trainers incident breached the implied term of trust and trust…there was no reasonable and proper reason for this discussion to take place in public Region.
“There was also no reasonable and proper reason to reprimand [Ms Jackson] about the condition of his shoes, let alone do it in a public place. Objectively, Kirsty Sherburn’s conduct that day was likely to seriously damage trust. There can be no reasonable and proper reason for a store manager to treat a junior employee in this way.”
She was awarded £12,138.40 in compensation for wrongful dismissal.