The Co-operative Group has won a tribunal case brought against it by its former chief procurement officer for unfair dismissal.

Kath Harmeston, who had responsibility for a vigorous business efficiency programme, was seeking more than £5m.

Harmeston joined the group in April 2014 and went on “gardening leave” five months later after she alerted bosses to alleged corporate malpractice, governance issues and breaches of fiduciary duty.

The Co-operative Group chairman Allan Leighton said at the time The Co-op had dismissed Harmeston because “she acted in a manner which was not in keeping with the importance and seniority of her role, nor the values and principles of The Co-op”.

In a statement issued today The Co-op said the tribunal found Harmeston had not been unfairly dismissed.

However, the tribunal did find The Co-op deliberately failed to pay Harmeston’s legitimate claims for expenses within a reasonable period, though The Grocer understands these have now been paid.

“We are glad that the tribunal has supported our view,” The Co-op said.

“We fought this action because it was be right thing to do and in the interests of our members. We would like to thank our members for their support.”

However, Carl Moran, the employment lawyer with JMW Solicitor who acted for Harmeston, said while she felt disappointed her dismissal was not ruled unfair, she felt “vindicated” by the fact the tribunal found she had received detrimental treatment related to her expenses claims.

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

Tribunal judgment

In its unanimous judgment, the tribunal said The Co-operative “deliberately failed to pay the claimants’ legitimate claims for expenses within a reasonable period. By doing so, [it] subjected the claimant to a detriment on the ground that the claimant had made protected disclosures. The respondent [The Co-op] did not subject the claimant to any other detriment on the ground that she made protected disclosures. The claimant was not unfairly dismissed.”

Moran said there would now be a separate hearing to determine “whate remedy Ms Harmeston is now entitled to” based on the detriment she suffered related to her expenses.