A leading pub chain has been found liable for race discrimination after one of its managers called one of its employee “Sooty”.
Joel Perry, 31, started working for Greene King at its Royal Oak pub in Gloucester in August 2009. Mrs Janet Wolszazck, the subject of his complaint to the Employment Tribunal, was the manager of the pub at that time. However, Mr Perry experienced race discrimination during his time at the pub and was dismissed in January 2010 for allegedly stealing drinks from the bar. This was an accusation which was subsequently proven to be false.
Mr Perry’s problems at the Royal Oak started in September 2009 when Mrs Wolszazck started to refer to Mr Perry as “Sooty”. The Employment Tribunal was told that there were situations on which she asked kitchen staff “When is Sooty back in?”, would call Mr Perry “Sooty” and tell him to “shut up, you silly black man”. Mr Perry was clearly, and understandably, unhappy with this treatment. He informed Mrs Wolszazck that he would be submitting a complaint to management at Greene King on 1 December 20009. The next day he was told by Mrs Wolszazck that he was to be investigated regarding allegations of his stealing drinks. He was then suspended by Mrs Wolszazck’s husband. The following month (January 2010) he was sacked. Mrs Wolszazck was given a final written warning.
Mr Perry subsequently submitted the following claims to the Employment Tribunal (among others, potentially):
- Direct race discrimination (under the Race Relations Act 1976)
- Racial harassment (under the Race Relations Act 1976)
- Victimisation (under the Race Relations Act 1976)
- Automatic unfair dismissal (under the Employment Rights Act 1996)
The Employment Tribunal found Greene King and Mrs Wolszazck liable for unlawful discrimination and unfair dismissal. The Employment Tribunal criticised Greene King’s approach to the matter, stating that they had failed to acknowledge the possibility that race discrimination had occurred. They further commented on Greene King’s lack of investigation and failure to ensure that incidents of discrimination did not occur again in the future. The Tribunal also considered that the allegations of theft put to Mr Perry were a “deliberate smear”. The matter was supposed to proceed to a remedy hearing but Greene King settled the case prior to the hearing. It is believed that Mr Perry signed a confidentiality agreement in consideration for a sum of several thousands of pounds, in addition to compensation for discrimination.
Although the discrimination claims were under the “old” legislation, his situation will be considered in light of the “new” legislation – the Equality Act 2010.
Direct racial discrimination
To prove direct discrimination Mr Perry would have to have shown on the balance of probabilities that he had been less favourably treated than other comparable employees in his workplace because of his skin colour and/or race. The fact that Mr Perry was called “Sooty” and was dismissed for complaining regarding this would have been evidence relating to this.
To prove racial harassment Mr Perry would have to demonstrate on the balance of probabilities that he had been subjected to unwanted conduct which had the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading or humiliating environment, or violated his dignity. The fact that Mrs Wolszaczack could Mr Perry “Sooty” would be evidence of racial harassment if it did have the effect of humiliating Mr Perry.
Victimisation under the Equality Act 2010 is defined as the subjection of a person to a detriment because that person does a protected act or the person who is alleged to have been victimised has done or will do a protected act. Protected act includes bringing proceedings under the Equality Act or making an allegation that the Respondent or another person has contravened the Equality Act. Mr Perry certainly suffered a detriment in being dismissed and the Tribunal considered that this detriment was caused by Mr Perry complaining of acts which contravened the Equality Act 2010.
Automatic unfair dismissal
Mr Perry did not have the normal requisite continuous employment of one year but was able to pursue a claim of automatic unfair dismissal (which does not require continuous employment of one year) because his dismissal related to a matter of unlawful discrimination. Once the Tribunal had accepted that his dismissal related to the allegations of discrimination it is not a stretch to see why the Employment Tribunal considered his dismissal to be unfair.
Lessons for employers
- Implement an equality policy in your workplace
- Deal effectively, efficiently and fairly with complaints of discrimination
- Don’t just side with more senior staff
- Investigate incidents of misconduct (especially those to do with discrimination) thoroughly and fairly
Lessons for employees
- Don’t take incidents of discrimination lying down – always submit a grievance if you think you’re being discriminated against in any way