Kath Harmeston: Employment tribunal decides in favour of Co-operative Group

A Manchester employment tribunal has found that former Co-operative Group procurement director, Kath Harmeston was not unfairly dismissed. Ms Harmeston, who was claiming whistle-blower status, was suing the Group for...

A Manchester employment tribunal has found that former Co-operative Group procurement director, Kath Harmeston was not unfairly dismissed.

Ms Harmeston, who was claiming whistle-blower status, was suing the Group for more than £5m. She argued she had been unfairly dismissed after having exposed alleged procurement non-compliance throughout the organisation.

But the judgment of the tribunal said Ms Harmeston was not unfairly dismissed. However, it found that the Group had “deliberately failed to pay” Ms Harmeston’s “legitimate claims for expenses within a reasonable period”. The reserved judgment responded: “By doing so, the respondent [the Group] subjected the claimant [Ms Harmeston] to a detriment on the ground that the claimant had made protected disclosures.”

It added: “The respondent did not subject the claimant to any other detriment on the ground that she made protected disclosures.”

A statement made by the Co-operative Group reads: “The Manchester employment tribunal has dismissed the whistleblowing claim brought by former procurement director, Kath Harmeston, against the Co-op.

“We are glad that the tribunal has supported our view. We fought this action because it was the right thing to do and in the interests of our members. We would like to thank our members for their support.”

Read more: The full case

Kath Harmeston was hired as procurement director in April 2014 to help cut costs at the Group following its financial troubles in 2013.

She was made redundant in August 2014 after a disciplinary hearing found that she had deliberately contravened Group procurement policy in hiring contractors Silver Lining Partners (SLP). Ms Harmeston has since been appointed as an independent director by the Ministry of Defence’s equipment and support division.

The trial started on 7 January and featured testimonies from Ms Harmeston, as well as the Group’s chief executive, Richard Pennycook and chief operating officer, Pippa Wicks.

Carl Moran, the employment lawyer with JMW Solicitors representing Ms Harmeston, said: “The employment tribunal agreed that Ms Harmeston was, in fact, the subject of detrimental treatment by the Co-operative Group after making protected disclosures.

“The tribunal made critical comments about the way in which some representatives of the company conducted themselves, both before the hearing and while giving evidence.

“Ms Harmeston is naturally disappointed with the ruling that her dismissal was not unfair. However, Ms Harmeston is pleased that the tribunal has confirmed that she was subjected to detriment by the Co-operative Group on the grounds that she had made protected disclosures and that she is now entitled to receive damages.

“Over the course of almost two years that she has been fighting her case, Ms Harmeston has been aware of its wider significance.

“She maintains that individuals – regardless of their seniority or the size of firm for which they work – should not be subjected to detrimental treatment as a consequence of making protected disclosures in the workplace that are in the public interest.

“The Tribunal will now hold a further hearing to determine what remedies Ms Harmeston is now entitled to.”

  • You can find all of our coverage from the case here.
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