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An Asda worker was sacked after he followed a 15-year-old girl out of a store and asked her to get into his car, saying he “wished she was 18”, an employment tribunal heard.
Vernon Morton was the deputy manager at a supermarket superstore in north London, when he allegedly approached the teenage customer on his lunch break and asked her to put his number in her phone under a girl’s name “so her family wouldn’t know”.
When another Asda employee who witnessed the incident asked the girl if she was okay, the tribunal heard that she told them some family circumstances and the reason she had to do the family’s shopping.
Since the incident in the summer of 2020 she said she had been scared to go into the superstore because of Mr Morton, reports MyLondon.
In the employment tribunal report published last week (November 1), the judge said his behaviour amounted to harassment of a young girl and “the start of a grooming process” which abused his senior position of trust.
The tribunal heard the girl said: “I was just doing my shopping and when I go out someone was calling ‘hey stranger’… he was following me saying ‘where have you been? I did not see you for a while,’ I looked surprised because I did not know him.
“He was saying he was on his break and was going to KFC but he never stopped and continued to walk with me.
“He removed his badge. He was saying ‘I don’t want anyone to know my name’.
“Then we go further down and I told him that I will go to take a bus.
“He was saying why I was taking the bus and to come back to Asda and he will take me home.
“I said ‘no’. He asked me twice and I said no. He was saying age doesn’t mean anything.
“He said [to] save [him] as a girl name [in my phone] and they wouldn’t know.
“It was weird for me when he was saying that I am beautiful and I should be 18 and he was trying to get me back at his car.”
The girl took video footage of the incident which was put to Mr Morton in a meeting with store managers.
Mr Morton said it was not strange to talk to a customer or offer them a lift home but admitted it was wrong to say that he wished she was 18.
He admitted that it was inappropriate to make that remark after he knew he was speaking to an underage stranger.
He argued that, given he did not have his name badge on him, he should be treated as a member of the public at the time of the incident.
He was later suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.
A deputy manager said: “The allegations could be seen as grooming a minor and have now been reported to the police.
“There is a high risk of reputation damage if we have allowed him to continue to stay in the business whilst being investigated.”
The employment tribunal found that Mr Morton was not unfairly dismissed and the store’s investigation was sufficient. The company had taken into account mitigating factors like his 10 year service at the store.
Employment Judge Bedeau said: “His behaviour, taken objectively, amounted to harassment of a young girl and the start of a grooming process. He was in a senior position and in a position of trust.”
Mr Morton put forward a claim of racial discrimination, asserting that in early April 2020, citing that he was told he had to attend work despite his wife needing to shield during the early days of the pandemic.
However, the employment judge dismissed this claim, adding: “The claimant at no point during his employment history with the company raised the issue of his treatment being on grounds of his race or race.
“We are further satisfied that the decision to dismiss him was made unrelated to his race but had everything to do with his inappropriate conversation with a 15-year-old girl.”
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