The former chief executive of footwear group Clarks has lost his claim for unfair dismissal after being sacked for making sexist, racist and homophobic comments to colleagues.
Mike Shearwood, 56, took the firm to an employment tribunal after he was given an ultimatum last year to resign or be dismissed when a series of allegations were made about his conduct.
He said he was dismissed by the board of directors because he had raised concerns about the perilous state of Clarks’ finances, which they were hiding from shareholders.
But the family-owned firm maintained Shearwood was asked to resign after breaching the family-owned firm’s code of ethics when several senior members of staff made allegations against him.
Following a five-day hearing at an employment tribunal in Bristol, Employment Judge Derek Reed dismissed Shearwood’s claims under unfair dismissal and public interest disclosure.
Judge Reed said the board received the findings of an internal investigation in June last year and days later gave Shearwood, who was appointed in September 2016, an ultimatum.
“The respondent’s view was that these matters were so serious it was inappropriate to go through the disciplinary process,” the judge said.
“It is conceded that these were very serious allegations and there is no dispute between the parties as to the seriousness of the allegations.
“It’s obvious why the respondent regarded these matters as serious.
“Mr Shearwood was the chief executive and these allegations had occurred in America and they were clearly concerned about the prospect of damaging the company’s position in the US and they were also concerned about the possibility of employees leaving if these matters were not resolved.
“It seems to us that it is overwhelmingly likely the real reason for Mr Shearwood’s dismissal was the contents of the report into the allegations.
“In other words, the reason for his dismissal was not as he asserted because he had made protected disclosures.”
Judge Reed said Shearwood was unable to be “so precise in dates and times” in his evidence about the whistleblowing.
“What is even more surprising is the wholesale lack of paperwork relating to these matters,” the judge said.
“It is literally staggering, in fact literally incredible, that there is no paperwork to support his case.”
The judge also drew attention to the fact Shearwood had signed off the annual accounts to the effect there was “nothing wrong with them”.
“That seems to us to be significant,” he added.
The tribunal had heard that Shearwood, who was a former chief executive of Karen Millen, was accused of describing a client of Clarks as a “f****** faggot”.
It was alleged he described an employee as “hot” and referred to “violent blacks” and told a gay colleague that “we like women, you like women”.
The hearing also heard that during one visit to the US by Shearwood, senior colleagues described him as “loose with his comments and was at times vulgar”.
A Clarks spokesman said afterwards: “Clarks welcomes the tribunal’s ruling and the rejection of Mr Shearwood’s claims.
“It has always been Clarks’ belief the allegations raised by Mr Shearwood were unfounded. With the tribunal ruling as it has, we hope this matter will now remain closed.
“We stand by our decision in relation to Mr Shearwood’s departure and are pleased to see the tribunal rule in our favour.
“We made it clear at the time of Mr Shearwood’s resignation that we would make no further comment on the particulars of his conduct and intend to maintain that stance.
“Clarks was founded on principles of integrity, equality, and community almost 200 years ago, and these values continue to underpin everything we do as a business.”
Shearwood did not wish to comment following the findings.
Reporting and image: PA Media.