Two employees at Capita Retail Financial Services brought a claim of racial harassment against both their employer and their operations manager, Mr Woodhouse, after Woodhouse made a racist comment about another staff member. The two employees, Miss S Kaur and Miss S Rehman, were of Asian ethnicity, and overheard Woodhouse’s racist comment when he walked past their work desks.
They told the tribunal that Woodhouse had noticed a white employee sat at a desk usually occupied by a black colleague, Mr Mattar. Woodhouse then allegedly asked the white employee, ““Has Mattar been dipped and had his head shaved?” Woodhouse denied ever making the comment.
The tribunal heard that the relationship between Woodhouse and Miss Kaur had already broken down prior to this incident, with Kaur having been put under performance management by him, and she felt unable to speak to him without any witnesses present.
Kaur made a written grievance on 21 January, following the comment made in relation to Mr Mattar, detailing the comment as well as her own issues with Woodhouse. She was interviewed on 4 February, along with Miss Rehman. Another colleague confirmed that they too had heard the comment, and expressed their shock at Woodhouse’s actions.
The internal investigation did not uphold any of Kaur’s own claims of bullying by Woodhouse, but it was concluded on the balance of probabilities that the comment against Mr Mattar had indeed been made. Kaur and Rehman were subsequently assigned to a different manager and shift pattern, to ensure that they no longer had to encounter Woodhouse at the workplace.
Capita suspended Woodhouse pending a disciplinary investigation. He has since been absent from work due to sickness, and the disciplinary process therefore has not yet took place.
The tribunal ruled in favour of Kaur and Rehman, finding that the alleged comment had been made by Woodhouse.
The tribunal found that the comment constituted “unwanted conduct related to race.” It was held that although it was not Woodhouse’s intention to create a hostile or offensive environment, the comment did have this effect.
Capita was not found liable for any act of unlawful harassment, due to having policies in place and training employees on these. The company took all reasonable steps to prevent the incident.
The tribunal ordered Woodhouse to pay each of the claimants an overall sum of £1,321.15, which included £1,250 to compensate for injured feelings, plus £71.15 in interest.
Mizan Muqit, general secretary and co-founder of the Equality for Workers Union (EFWU), which supported the claimants, described the ruling as a “gamechanger” as it showed named individuals could still be held liable even if the claims are not upheld against the employer.
“As this case proves, by having named respondents they cannot escape from discriminatory and illegal acts committed against individuals,” said Muqit.
A Capita spokesperson said: “We are pleased with the tribunal’s judgment that Capita was not liable and that we take all reasonable steps to avoid this type of behaviour, which clearly falls below the standards we expect.”Posted on: 23/Dec/2019 Posted in: Employment Law