Business Law & Compliance

Airport worker fired for "witch prank" revenge on colleague who unfriended her on Facebook

3 min read

25 August 2015

Alicja Derwich responded to work friend Sophie King's decision to unfriend her on Facebook by altering her computer screensaver at Biggin Hill Airport to display an image of a witch whenever she left it idle.

Derwich had previously worked alongside King, and encouraged her friend and colleague to apply for a supervisor position at the airport. But when King got the job, she unfriended several workers – including Derwich. This “did not go down well with the claimant,” the tribunal was told.

They then made an official complaint about King’s appointment. In his tribunal judgement, judge Peter Clark said: “The managing director rejected that collective grievance and wrote to the claimant and other members of staff informing them so.

“He was also aware that some staff members had been cold-shouldering King because she had unfriended them on Facebook and a witch image had been placed on her computer as a screensaver.”

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An investigation took place into King’s treatment. In the course of the subsequent investigation it came to light that Derwich, and two other employees, had made a Google images search using the terms “witch”, “middle finger”, “one finger death punch”, and more offensive terms such as “up her a***” and “up your cr**k”.

The prank backfired, with King making a formal complaint and her former friend losing her job. Derwich was suspended, but she appealed her dismissal for gross misconduct, eventually taking her case against the airport to an employment tribunal.

The judge ruled in her favour on the grounds that she was unprepared for the initial hearing and Derwich was awarded £7,430.73 together with costs of £1,200. He had concerns about the charges alleged against the claimant, save in respect of the “witch” image, not being specific enough. They were referred to as matters that had been discussed, but did not identify precisely what it was that Derwich had done or omitted to do.

Similarly, no reference was made to “gross misconduct” or the terms of the disciplinary procedure relied on for such a charge.

Clark said: “In an interview held as part of the investigation she admitted to choosing the witch image at random and saving it as a screensaver. She did not deny that the image looked like King or making obscene gestures behind King’s back. She accepted that the way she had handed the situation was not great and said she was upset that King had unfriended her on Facebook.”

The airport has successfully appealed the ruling and now the case is set to go back before an employment tribunal with a different judge.