Sandwich Sparks Legal Battle

After being dismissed for eating a leftover sandwich, a cleaner is taking legal action against a London law firm, Devonshires Solicitors, alleging indirect race discrimination. Gabriela Rodriguez, an Ecuadorian national employed by Total Clean, was contracted to clean the law firm.

The United Voices of the World union (UVW), advocating for migrant workers, has taken up her case, claiming that Ms Rodriguez’s termination stemmed from discriminatory motives.


Ms Rodriguez ate a tuna sandwich, valued at £1.50, believing it would otherwise go to waste after the meeting concluded. However, she was shocked to find herself accused by her employer, Total Clean, of taking “client property…without authority or reasonable excuse,” leading to her termination.

UVW asserts that Ms Rodriguez’s immigrant status and limited English proficiency played a pivotal role in her dismissal, arguing that complaints would not have been raised nor would she have been dismissed if she were not an immigrant worker with limited English. The union further claims that cleaners, predominantly comprising migrant workers, face routine dismissals on trivial and discriminatory grounds across the country.

In response to the allegations, both Total Clean and Devonshires Solicitors have issued statements denying responsibility for Ms Rodriguez’s dismissal.  Total Clean maintains that all actions were in accordance with UK employment law, following a proper investigation and disciplinary process. They emphasise the importance of upholding the integrity of their workforce and service by appropriately dealing with actions undermining the hard work and reputation of the team. 

Devonshires Solicitors, on the other hand, denies making a formal complaint against Ms Rodriguez and asserts that they explicitly instructed Total Clean not to take any action against her and would have welcomed her back on their premises. They characterise the matter as a private one between Ms Rodriguez and Total Clean.  It was Total Clean who carried out their own investigation and claim their decision to dismiss Ms Rodriguez was made without any input or influence from the law firm. 

As the dispute unfolds, both Total Clean and Devonshires Solicitors are set to face an employment tribunal, with claims of direct and indirect racial discrimination looming over the proceedings. The outcome of this legal battle will not only impact the parties involved but also shed light on broader issues of workplace equality and treatment of migrant workers in the UK.

Learning Points

Reputational risks come as a priority for many and not having an involvement in such cases can impact public relations, so this serves as a reminder to have that involvement to protect yourself as an employer and to mitigate the consequences and complexities of disciplining contractors. 

Being so prominent in having hit the headlines at this early stage, it highlights the issues from an employment and PR perspective and the importance of proportional punishments.   

It does stress the importance of having clear policies and procedures, and a shared understanding brought about through training and awareness. It also highlights the necessity for organisations to maintain up-to-date diversity and inclusion policies.

For further information, or to discuss the issues raised within this case, please ​contact us to speak to a member of our Employment Team.

Darren Smith
Partner, Employment
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This reflects the law and market position at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought in relation to a specific matter.

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