An engineer of Caribbean origin has been awarded more than £11,000 after a tribunal found he was the victim of direct racial discrimination due to comments made by colleagues mocking and imitating his accent.
Edwards worked as a wheelchair engineer for Hertfordshire County Council. Following a change in management and the introduction of rigorous timekeeping standards, Edwards began logging complaints about his treatment.
Pulled up about his timekeeping in early in 2015, Edwards was told that this would lead to a disciplinary.
Edwards accused his manager of racial discrimination.
On 16 March 2015, he submitted a lengthy grievance that broadly claimed he had endured a “campaign of harassment” since the change of management.
Among other complaints, he raised issues of racial discrimination, stating:
“I have to put up with certain colleagues mocking my accent” and that this happened in front of management who “did nothing about it other than to laugh and smirk at staff making the comments.”
A grievance meeting was arranged for 20 April 2015.
Notes made by the investigative officer found that Edwards was non-specific about which of his colleagues had mocked his accent and made racial comments.
His main grievance, however, was against his manager who he said had condoned the behaviour by failing to intervene.
Through investigations, it was supported by a colleague that there were racial jokes/banter and that was an accepted practice.
This was seen as significant by the tribunal, as it suggested that jokes crossed a boundary into an unacceptable area for Edwards.
Edwards’s manager denied in detail each allegation made against him in the grievance process and asserted his commitment to diversity in his personal and professional life.
In the investigating officer’s report on the grievance process, it was concluded that there was no evidence to substantiate that management allowed racist remarks and behaviour to occur although there was a belief that it does happen and management need to tackle this.
Recommendations were given including that staff awareness be developed around diversity and inclusion practices.
Edwards appealed the decision, but this was overturned, and on 16 September 2015 he resigned with immediate effect, citing reasons that included:
“Work-related stress; bullying and harassment; discrimination; the unreasonable amount of delegated work; arbitrary and capricious; breach of trust and confidence; last straw doctrine; breach of health and safety”
He brought a claim in August 2017 for direct racial discrimination, racial discrimination, victimisation, and constructive unfair dismissal.
His claim for direct racial discrimination was the only one to succeed.
Under the Equality Act 2010, the tribunal had to consider whether or not Edwards had been treated less favourably than a hypothetical comparator.
They concluded that the detriment (imitation of the Caribbean accent) did take place and that colleagues did not imitate the accent of any other person who was not of the claimant’s race.
On those grounds, the claim succeeded.
This finding is a stark reminder that these claims are based on the technical application of the law for the specific claim made.
The claimant made a claim of direct race discrimination, which required a judgment of whether his treatment had resulted in his less favourable treatment when compared to someone, not of Caribbean origin.
The tribunal had no difficulty in concluding that discrimination had occurred when his accent was imitated.