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    Gay jibes prove costly for employer - 29-Aug-2008
    An Auckland publishing company employee who was teased about his sexuality has been awarded more than $7000 for hurt feelings and unjustifiable dismissal.

    An Employment Relations Authority (ERA) decision released today said Jason Cunningham had worked at Ponsonby-based Action Media for only a month before resigning on September 10, 2007.

    He planned to work out his notice of four weeks but was suspended four days later.

    An investigation found his boss, Sean Mitchell, had taunted Mr Cunningham about being gay.

    On one occasion Mr Cunningham's partner left a voice message at the office which was passed on by Mr Mitchell in a voice and tone mimicking the caller.

    He also at times copied Mr Cunningham's mannerisms around the office.

    The report said that when Mr Cunningham resigned, Mr Mitchell offered to help him to try to find work at a gay newspaper or magazine.

    At one stage Mr Cunningham's partner took exception to Mr Mitchell's behaviour and called him and threatened him.

    The incident sparked a decision by Mr Mitchell to suspend Mr Cunningham.

    Further discussions took place involving Mr Cunningham's mother, and Mr Mitchell ended up suggesting his employee work his notice out from his own home - something Mr Cunningham was not interested in doing.

    The ERA report said it believed evidence from Mr Cunningham and his mother that during a meeting Mr Mitchell told him he was dismissed and wouldn't get any more pay.

    Mr Cunningham raised the grievance case on September 26 and the ERA found in his favour.

    "It seems that Mr Mitchell enjoyed making jokes at the expense of his employee Mr Cunningham but did not find it so funny when it came to receiving advice that legal action might be taken against him," it said, regarding the threat from Mr Cunningham's partner.

    The report said Mr Mitchell's conduct was "infantile", and the resulting situation was his own fault.

    The authority ordered Action Media to pay wage arrears of $3461 with interest of 9 percent from October 10, 2007 until paid in full.

    It said it believed Mr Cunningham was genuinely upset and distressed by being dismissed and affected by jibes about his sexuality.

    Taking those issues into consideration, Action Media was ordered to pay another $3800.

    Mr Cunningham was awarded another $60 for a mobile phone allowance which had been agreed to and a $70 reimbursement for lodging his complaint with the ERA.

    The report said suggestions Mr Cunningham had contributed to the situation that gave rise to his grievance were unfounded.
    Ref: - NZ Herald - Action Media

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