A bus driver sacked for letting his wife off a $2.90 fare has been awarded nearly $20,000 in compensation.
The employment court doubled the amount Go Bus in Dunedin had to pay Kevin Hellyer, saying it had "wrongly branded him as a thief and a fraudster".
An undercover inspector saw Mr Hellyer allow his wife onto a bus without paying.
He said she had left her wallet in the car and he had intended to reimburse the money but forgot.
The Employment Relations Authority said Mr Hellyer had been held to a higher standard of behaviour because of his union involvement, in which the issue of reintroducing family passes had been discussed.
It found Go Bus had discriminated against Mr Hellyer as a result of his involvement in collective negotiations when he was branch president of the Tramways Union.
The company appealed that judgement but the Employment Court, in a judgement released on Friday, upheld it and increased what it described as a modest level of compensation.
It ruled Mr Hellyer had a personal grievance under section 103 of the Employment Relations Act "that he was discriminated against in his employment, and also that such discrimination tainted significantly Go Bus's conclusion that Mr Hellyer had acted dishonestly and fraudulently in failing to account for his wife's $2.90 fare.
"In this latter regard, a reasonable employer could not have reached the decision that Go Bus did about the seriousness of Mr Hellyer's conduct, in all the circumstances leading up to and at the time when it dismissed him.
"Go Bus could only reasonably have concluded that Mr Hellyer breached its fare payment policies but could not have concluded reasonably that he sought to gain financially from that breach, and in doing so acted dishonestly and fraudulently.
"Accordingly, and as acknowledged by Go Bus witnesses, it should have applied its 'benefit of the doubt' policy towards Mr Hellyer (as it did to other employees in similar situations) which would have warranted only a warning for this breach but not the defendant's dismissal."
It said the company generally had fair rules and processes but reached the wrong conclusion because they were not properly applied in Mr Hellyer's case.
It said the Employment Relations Authority "examined the cases of other employees who were observed by the undercover bus inspector on the same day to have breached ticketing and cash handling policies of Go Bus.
"The Authority described their situations as "not directly comparable" with that of Mr Hellyer, but did note that two other employees received final written warnings on the basis that Go Bus had not concluded that these other employees had intended to defraud the company of revenue, whereas in Mr Hellyer's case it did so conclude."