[Christopher Turton was discriminated against by Muslim workers because he is a non-Muslim]
By Safia Tharoo,
The Employment Tribunal in Birmingham recently heard a case brought by Christopher Turton against the National Halal Food Group.
Turton was employed in 2009 as a manager. He was one of only two White workers out of more than 300. He was subsequently promoted to the position of National Concessions Manager, however a number of employees were unhappy about his promotion.
An employee sent an email to a self-employer worker questioning the reasons for Turton’s promotion, and specifically asking: ‘Is it because he is White?’ The email went on to note that Turton was ‘ not a Muslim brother’ and added ‘Allah is the provider’.
Turton saw a copy of the email and told the employment tribunal that he had been extremely hurt by the comments and believed that he was singled out because of his skin colour and his religion by his co-workers. The Tribunal also heard that Turton found the email ‘extremely offensive’ and that he was compelled to sign off work with stress. He eventually resigned from the company.
Turton brought a claim for race and religious discrimination. The National Halal Food Group made clear that its management disapproved of the email and had arranged a face to face meeting with those involved and had issued an apology to Turton. The employee who sent the email had also apologised. Notwithstanding this, the employment tribunal held that Turton had found the email to be racist and offensive and that there had been an injury to his feelings.
He was initially awarded £3,000 but this was reduced to £2,550 as he had failed to lodge an official grievance with his former employer before commencing legal proceedings. The Tribunal further recommended that the company issue instructions to its workforce and team leaders, within six months, about their equal opportunities policies.
This case is a prime example of the potential consequences of even one email sent by an employee without the knowledge or even support of their employer. Despite the fact that The National Halal Food Group had taken steps to deal with the situation, and had in no way supported the views of its employee, it was still liable for their actions where those were found to be discriminatory. This is a reminder to all employers of the importance of providing information and training to staff about equal opportunities issues and the consequences of failing to adhere to the spirit and the letter of the policies. It is not inconceivable that such a failure might amount to a disciplinary offence and attract sanctions up to and including dismissal. It also shows the importance of an employer dealing immediately with issues that do arise in a fair and open manner. It is quite possible that had The National Halal Food Group not taken steps to demonstrate their disapproval of the views expressed in the email and not issued an apology that the level of damages could have been higher. Whilst no employer can ever prevent every single one of its employees from ever sending out an email expressing views which are contrary to their policies, it can certainly take many steps towards reducing the chances of this sort of event occurring.
Safia Tharoo, Barrister, 42 Bedford Row, London