Natalie McGonigle from Chelmsford, Essex, pulled down a Muslim colleague’s hijab twice, saying she was just “messing around”, but has lost an unfair dismissal case
A supermarket worker who claimed she was just “having a laugh” after she pulled down a Muslim colleague’s hijab has lost an unfair dismissal case after being fired.
Natalie McGonigle was sacked for gross misconduct after pulling down the woman’s head covering on “two separate occasions” in acts deemed “disrespectful” towards the colleague’s religion.
Mrs McGonigle, who was a team leader at a Morrisons store in Chelmsford, Essex, insisted she had meant “no malice or offence” and was just “messing around”.
But she has now lost an appeal against her sacking and an employment tribunal has ruled Morrisons had every right to remove Mrs McGonigle for her conduct and her “misconceived belief” that her actions were “done in jest”.
The East London tribunal heard Mrs McGonigle had worked for Morrisons for four years and at the time of the incident was employed as a team leader at their store.
In February this year managers at the store received a complaint that Mrs McGonigle had twice pulled down her colleague’s hijab without her consent the previous month.
The victim, named only as ‘S’, complained Mrs McGonigle’s actions were “disrespectful” towards her religion.
Mrs McGonigle was suspended from work six days after the complaint was made and a disciplinary investigation was launched.
The tribunal heard other workers saw her yank the headscarf down on both occasions.
Mrs McGonigle denied the second incident but admitted the first, arguing she was just “messing around” and the colleague was “pretty without it on”.
Mrs McGonigle also pointed to the fact that she and the colleague “remained friends on Facebook “, and attached photos of the colleague “not wearing her hijab” to prove she did not wear it all the time.
But managers dismissed her excuses, stating they didn’t believe there were “any circumstances where pulling down a colleague’s headscarf could be done in jest'”.
Mrs McGonigle was dismissed for gross misconduct later that month.
She later started an appeal complaining that more consideration should have been given to her “poor mental health” during investigations, but this was not upheld.
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Employment Judge Manjit Hallen told the tribunal Mrs McGonigle had displayed a “misconceived belief” that her actions would not cause offence.
He said: “The Tribunal had no doubt in finding that the genuine reason was Mrs McGonigle’s misconduct.
“At the heart of the case appeared to be a misconceived belief on Mrs McGonigle’s part that pulling down S’s headscarf was done in jest and was not malicious.
“Given [she] was in a position of authority as a Team Leader with [Morrisons] and should have been fully conversant with the Respect in the Workplace Policy, the Tribunal could not see how [Mrs McGonigle] could have reasonably come to that conclusion.”
Mrs McGonigle’s claim of unfair dismissal was dismissed by the tribunal.
Further claims of breach of contract/unlawful deduction from wages, centring on a “Covid bonus” she thought she was entitled to after being sacked, were also dismissed.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.