Breaking News! Kath Harmeston Loses Her Case Against the Co-op (Or Did She?!)

Today, the Manchester Employment Tribunal has found in favour of the Co-operative Group in relation to the unfair dismissal case brought by Kath Harmeston, its former procurement director. We reported extensively on the case when it was heard back in January – this was our final round-up at the time.

The tribunal found that Harmeston was not unfairly dismissed and the Co-op Group “did not subject her to any other detriment on the ground that she made protected disclosures”* (but see below for latest news)  – she claimed that she was fired for her whistleblowing about how the Co-op senior team wasted money. The Co-op said she was dismissed based on a number of reasons largely related to performance.

The tribunal did find that the Co-op deliberately failed to pay her legitimate claims for expenses within a reasonable period – clearly, that was a pretty minor part of the claim.

The Co-operative Group says: “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.”

That may be so, but some of what came out in the case was not exactly impressive in terms of how the Co-op ran its business. At the very least, there was some pretty bad practice in terms of cost management. But Harmeston’s case seemed to be undermined by the fact that she engaged her own preferred firm of consultants without a competitive process; the very failing that she was laying at the door of other top executives.

Anyway, we will be back to explore some ramifications for procurement executives to consider, and we will have more commentary once we see the full statement from the tribunal. And look out for an exclusive Spend Matters review of the case coming soon!

8pm - We have now seen this statement from Harmeston's  solicitors! So this seems in part to contradict the statement from the Co-op - we obviously need to see the actual court statement.

“The Employment Tribunal agreed that Ms Harmeston was, in fact, the subject of detrimental treatment by the Co-operative Group Limited 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 Limited 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”.

First Voice

  1. Steve:

    I would say that it is a shame that someone with such capabilities and track record as Kath has ended up in this position – there was certain naivety in the way she brought this supplier into the Co-op Group especially given that she was focusing on this type of behaviour in the first instance. I am not quite sure where she goes from here.

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