Herts County Council pay out over £11,000 in racism tribunal

PUBLISHED: 16:00 30 March 2018 | UPDATED: 16:18 30 March 2018

Hertfordshire County Council

Hertfordshire County Council

Archant

Herts County Council must pay over £11,000 in a racial discrimination case after colleagues imitated a Welwyn Garden City worker’s Caribbean accent.

The tribunal was heard at Watford Tribunal Hearing Centre on August 2-6 and 25 September last year.

Mr Vernon Edwards, 45, claimed that while working for Herts County Council he suffered direct racial discrimination, constructive unfair dismissal, and discrimination by constructive dismissal.

After upholding one claim of direct racial discrimination, the council was ordered to pay Mr Edwards £11,505.32, made up of a principal sum of £8,500 and interest of £3,005.02.

The other claims were dismissed.

Mr Edwards, who is of Caribbean background, worked at the council’s Wheelchair Repair Service between 2012 and 2015, alleged that colleagues imitated his accent.

He also alleged that workers made numerous racist comments, that his manager tolerated them, and that his management was “tainted by race”.

His manager, Mr Andrew Mawbey, was customer services manager at the time.

In 2015, Mr Edwards raised an internal grievance procedure about a wide range of issues, including the allegation of racist remarks and his accent being imitated.

He claimed that workers made comments about “chinks”, joining the National Front, and suggestions that immigrants should drown.

Mr Edwards was the only person in the team who was not white.

After considering the grievance, the council concluded that “it is likely that such jokes and remarks do occur and … management need to tackle this,” with diversity and respect training, but said that there was no evidence Mr Mawbey had been allowing it to happen.

In 2015, after being disciplined for lateness, Mr Edwards went off sick for eight months before leaving the council’s employment.

At the tribunal, Mr Edwards repeated some of his claims of racist comments and behaviour.

The tribunal notes: “We find that on a date in January 2015, but on or before 21 January, Mr [Dave] Durrant used the words ‘Hitler wasted gas on the Jews.’

“We find that that was said in general conversation.”

When asked about it during the grievance procedures, Mr Durrant had said that he “couldn’t think of any” racist statements he had made, and said: “It would be jokey. Not to harm others.”

The tribunal noted that because Mr Edwards was claiming direct discrimination, it would have to consider whether the Hitler comment resulted in him having any less favourable treatment than anyone else.

“If the claim has been pleaded as [harassment], we would have had less difficulty.”

For the other comments, the tribunal couldn’t corroborate Mr Edwards’ claims and concluded that they couldn’t be proven on the balance of probabilities.

The tribunal upheld the complaint of direct racial discrimination on the grounds that colleagues had mimicked the accent of Mr Edwards, who is of Caribbean background and was the only non-white person in the workplace at the time.

Mr Edwards also alleged that his management by Mr Mawbey and the head of Hertfordshire Equipment Service, Ms Sarah Evans, had been “tainted by race” and that racism was the reason for his dismissal.

Mr Mawbey “robustly denied having heard imitation of the claimant’s accent, or any other racist language, or having taken part in it, or knowing anything about it.”

Travelling from West Drayton every day to work, Mr Edwards was persistently late and felt victimised when Ms Evans imposed stricter standards.

He spoke of several encounters and disciplinary matters with Mr Mawbey in which Mr Edwards felt racism played a part.

However, the tribunal found that none of Mr Mawbey’s and Ms Evans’ the managerial or disciplinary decisions were as a result of racial bias.

The judgement reads: “We find that Mr Mawbey and Ms Evans may be considered wholly vindicated in the eyes of this tribunal of such allegations.”

The tribunal noted that Mr Edwards had been through a period of stress and ill health.

Taking this into account, it found nonetheless that Mr Edwards was an “unreliable narrator” of the complaints that were not upheld, and “conducted the proceedings unreasonably”, ordering him to pay the council £750.

The tribunal was heard at Watford Tribunal Hearing Centre on August 2-6 and 25 September last year.

The council were told to pay the compensation by March 16 this year.

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