'Taking client property' | Cleaner sacked after eating leftover sandwich takes law firm to court

Cleaner sacked after eating leftover sandwich takes law firm to court

A cleaner is suing a London law firm for indirect race discrimination after being sacked for eating a sandwich leftover following a lawyers’ meeting.

As first reported by Roll On Friday, Gabriela Rodriguez was employed by Total Clean, and was contracted to clean the offices of Devonshires Solicitors for two years before her sacking.

United Voices of the World union (UVW), a union which supports migrant workers, claims the Ecuadorian national was dismissed just before Christmas 2023, after Total Clean reportedly received a complaint from Devonshires - a legal firm based in the City - about leftover sandwiches being eaten.

The union says Rodriguez ate a tuna sandwich, valued at £1.50, which she thought would otherwise be thrown out after the meeting had ended.

But to her shock, she was then let go for taking “client property … without authority or reasonable excuse”.

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The UVW argues that complaints would not have been raised, and Rodriguez would not have been sacked, had she not been an immigrant worker with limited English.

The legal firm, however, has said it did not raise any complaint about Rodriguez, and had “expressly told Total Clean not to take any action against her.”

Amidst conflicting claims of who was responsible for her dismissal, dozens of union members staged a protest outside Devonshires’ offices in an attempt to get Rodriguez her job back. They arrived holding hundreds of  tuna sandwiches.

The union is also taking both Devonshires and Total Clean to an employment tribunal, with claims of both direct and indirect racial discrimination.

Petros Elia, the general secretary of UVW, said the union was “mission-bound as a trade union which represents large numbers of cleaners” – most of whom are migrant workers.

“Cleaners are routinely dismissed on trivial and, we argue, discriminatory grounds like this every day around the country,” he said. 

“We demand respect, dignity and equality, regardless of the language we speak, our country of origin, or the colour of our skin.

“We are taking both Total Clean and Devonshires Solicitors to an employment tribunal. For Total Clean, the claims are for unfair dismissal and direct race discrimination. For Devonshires Solicitors the claims are for direct and/or indirect race discrimination.”

Total Clean were approached for comment by The Guardian. A spokesperson said: “While we would not typically comment on personnel issues, we would like to address the misleading and inaccurate information that is being alleged by our ex-employee. It is important to us to maintain the integrity of our workforce and service by ensuring we deal appropriately with any actions that undermine the hard work and reputation of our incredible team who conduct themselves impeccably. Trust and honesty is of paramount importance.

“All steps taken have been in accordance with UK employment law following the proper investigative and disciplinary process. We will be making no further comment on the matter.”

A spokesperson for Devonshires Solicitors said: “Devonshires did not make a formal complaint against Gabriela and expressly told Total Clean not to take any action against her. Total Clean carried out their own investigation and the decision to dismiss Gabriela was taken without any input or influence from Devonshires whatsoever.

“This is a private matter between Total Clean and Gabriela but we have made clear to Total Clean that we would not object – as we never have done – to Gabriela attending and working on our premises if Total Clean changes its position.”

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