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Employment Law Case Update: Racism and Sexual Harassment

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The case of Anne Giwa-Amu v Department for Work and Pensions illustrates precisely the way not to handle a grievance around racism and ageism.

Miss Giwa-Amu was an administration officer working for Caerphilly’s Department for Work and Pensions. Appointed on an 18 month fixed term contract, she was the only non-white recruit in her cohort, being of Nigerian and Welsh descent. She was also, at 55, the only trainee administration officer over the age of 50. Throughout her employment she was subjected to racist language from her colleagues, including remarks such as “Paki-lover”. Another colleague had laughed at her and told colleagues that he had “touched her bum”. On one occasion two trainees began making gestures to each other when Ms Giwa-Amu arrived. She perceived these gestures to be about her and became so upset she left the room.

It was after this last incident that Ms Giwa-Amu told the instructor, Ms Foley, about feeling bullied by the other trainees. Although she asked Ms Foley not to escalate the matter or say anything to the trainees, Ms Foley spoke with another trainee about their behaviour.

Although the employees who committed the racist acts caused Miss Giwa-Amu a lot of distress, they were promoted instead of reprimanded for their actions.

Miss Giwa-Amu went on sick leave in March 2017 after raising a grievance only five weeks after the start of her employment; she also raised further allegations via email. While a manager was appointed to investigate her grievances Miss Giwa-Amu complained to ACAS and started the Early Conciliation process. During this process the DWP decided not to uphold her claims. She then appealed but this was also dismissed by the DWP. In October 2017 she was dismissed due to her failure to maintain an acceptable level of attendance.

Miss Giwa-Amu brought claims in the Employment Tribunal (ET) for discrimination due to her race and her age. The ET heard that during her sick leave, she had been living on around £55 a week as her last pay had been withheld - and that the DWP had dismissed her due to her being unable to return to work.

The ET upheld her claims for discrimination and concluded that staff at the DWP had deliberately created a “hostile environment” for her to work in. The ET heard that she had been accused of stealing ice cream and that employees would spray themselves with body spray when they were standing next to her.

The ET was also critical of the response of the DWP to Ms Giwa-Amu’s claims of harassment and discrimination. It found that the equality and diversity training given to the trainees was not “fit for purpose” and that the investigators failed to “understand that harassment can occur when conduct is having the effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for an employee (regardless of the other employee’s motive).”

The ET ordered the DWP to pay around £386,000 in compensation due to the treatment she had received. This award included £42,800 in injury to feelings. The DWP was also ordered to contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission for diversity awareness training.

This case highlights the importance for employers to ensure they carry out the correct training for their employees and to act on any allegations of racist or discriminatory behaviour. It also illustrates how costly it can be if the employer does not take appropriate actions to halt a culture of discrimination. 

If you have any questions regarding this article, you can call our Employment team today on 023 8071 7717 or email employment@warnergoodman.co.uk.

This was previously part of our weekly Employment Law Newsletter. If you would like to subscribe, please email us at events@warnergoodman.co.uk or just fill in our subscription form.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.