Swastika on milk worker’s overalls after Christchurch attack leads to sacking

A Christchurch milk factory worker will not get his job back after being sacked for drawing a swastika on his overalls in the days after the Christchurch mosque attack.

Last week, the Christchurch Employment Relations Authority (ERA) dismissed Ivan Ilin’s claim of unfair dismissal at milk processing facility Meadow Fresh owned by Goodman Fielder NZ Ltd.

Ilin had been summarily dismissed after drawing a swastika on his overalls and allegedly saying “so scary” to his colleagues on March 19, 2019.

In the ERA’s determination it states “Mr Ilin says that shortly after the mosque shootings in Christchurch, when asked what he thought of the shootings, he was ‘clowning around’ and drew a swastika on his overalls saying ‘so scary’.

“Later, he changed out of his overalls when told to by his team leader. Someone complained about his overalls, so he was called to see his manager. Mr Ilin explained he was just ‘joking around and meant nothing by it’ when asked to explain what it meant.

“He asked who had complained so he could apologise. Mr Ilin says he did apologise. Mr Ilin says that no one in the workforce was offended by his ‘silly mistake’.”

After several meetings in the following weeks between Ilin and Goodman Fielder, he was dismissed on March 29, 2019.

Ilin had been working at Meadow Fresh since 2010 and was seeking compensation for lost earnings, humiliation, lost dignity, injured feelings and a penalty for breach of good faith and costs.

He made an application for unjustified dismissal in September 2019.

But on January 15, 2021, ERA member Philip Cheyne rejected Ilin’s bid and determined that Goodman Fielder justifiably dismissed Ilin.

Part of the evidence in the ERA decision included one of Ilin’s colleagues who claimed Ilin “used the words ‘white supremacy’ when he drew the swastika on the overalls, that Mr Ilin’s actions made him feel ‘pretty uncomfortable’ “.

But Ilin also suggested in the ERA decision that Goodman Fielder used the March 19 swastika incident to dismiss him, instead of incurring the cost of making him redundant which would have arisen in April 2019 due to process changes.

Ilin also claimed in the ERA decision that “several years ago” a “real white supremacist” who worked at Meadow Fresh came to work one day wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “White Pride Worldwide” and Meadow Fresh took no disciplinary action against him.

However ERA member Cheyne said, “Ilin’s evidence on this point lack detail and is unsupported by any other evidence.”

In making his ERA decision Cheyne determined Goodman Fielder acted in a way that a fair and reasonable employer should have done in all the circumstances.

“A fair and reasonable employer was entitled to investigate the report that an employee had drawn a swastika on his overalls, especially in light of the very recent mosque killings and the security situation in Christchurch,” Cheyne said.

“A fair and reasonable employer could have concluded that the employee’s actions and words were totally unacceptable and contrary to the company’s policy and values. That employer could have determined that the actions and words were so serious as to amount to serious misconduct, so that summary dismissal was an available option.”

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