Employee suffered racial harassment at diversity training course

An employee who was ‘deeply offended and uncomfortable’ by use of racial epithets at her employer’s equality and diversity training course has won a claim for racial harassment

Legal principles

Section 26 of the Equality Act 2010 provides that a person (A) harasses another person (B) if A engages in unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic (for example, race) and the conduct has the purpose or effect of violating B’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for B.

Where B claims that the conduct had this effect (although this was not A’s purpose), the employment tribunal must consider whether it was reasonable for the conduct to have that effect.

Facts

The Claimant worked as a cleaner at a housing association from 4 January until 23 March 2018. As part of her induction, she was required to attend an equality and diversity training session on 8 March.

As part of the course, the trainer conducted an exercise called ‘what are discriminatory words?’ According to the Claimant, to encourage the group to contribute to the session, the trainer wrote on the flipchart the words ‘nigger’ and ‘paki’ and asked the delegates to shout out the most derogatory and offensive words that they could think of. The word ‘nigger’ was shouted out three times. The Claimant was the only black person in the room.

Subsequently, on 12 March, the Claimant called her line manager and told her that she had ‘heard the n-word several times that day and didn’t think it was right’.

The Claimant filed a complaint with the HR department about the training session. The complaint was not upheld. The employer said that the intention of the training was to highlight that using discriminatory language in any context could potentially cause offence, and it was felt that by discussing this language openly “in a very controlled environment (ie the training room)”, the intended purpose would be achieved.

Claim

The Claimant took her case to the tribunal, claiming the use of the n-word in the training environment amounted to racial harassment.

The employer argued that the Claimant’s perception of events at the training session may have been affected by the fact that on the morning of the training she had received a letter inviting her to a probation review meeting to discuss concerns about her performance and about an alleged fraudulent timesheet.

Decision

Although the tribunal found that there was ‘some insinuation’ that the Claimant had fraudulently filled in a timesheet, it decided that the use of the full n-word by the trainer and by the three others in the training course had the effect of creating a degrading and offensive environment for the Claimant and of violating her dignity.

The tribunal concluded that the ‘n’ word is by its very nature a deeply loaded and offensive word with distressing racial connotations which would necessarily have caused the Claimant to feel deeply offended and uncomfortable.

Although the purpose of the training (to raise awareness that certain words should not be used in any circumstances) was entirely appropriate, encouraging delegates to say words that were deeply offensive was a crude and unnecessary way of delivering the training. In addition, there was no explicit rationale as to why the words ‘nigger’ and ‘paki’, both racially offensive, were written on the flipchart to start the ball rolling.

The tribunal concluded that it was reasonable for the Claimant to have been offended by the conduct. The hearing was adjourned to a future date to consider compensation.

Ms Theresa Georges v Pobl Group Ltd ET 1601213.2018

Warning: this news item is not a substitute for legal advice. The information may be incorrect or out of date and does not constitute a definitive or complete statement of the law. This news item is not intended to constitute legal advice in any specific situation. Readers should obtain legal advice and not rely on the information in this article.