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Living in a multicultural UK society it seems incomprehensible that someone’s race or ethnicity is still an issue.  We have been living in a multicultural society for hundreds of years now. If a different face/skin colour were unusual, perhaps a lack of understanding might lead to someone being treated less favourably than others.  I’m not saying that this is ever right; it’s still unlawful but may be easier to understand if that were the case.  But it’s not.

We currently have a client who is of Romany ethnicity.  He has been the subject of numerous discriminatory acts by his employer and is heading for the Employment Tribunal.  His claims will be race/ethnicity discrimination and harassment and personal injury arising from discrimination.  All very weighty claims that the three potential respondents are currently trying to wriggle out of.

He was repeatedly called a highly insulting word (which is apparently as bad as the ‘n’ word) by multiple people, all more senior than him.  He told them that the word -“pikey” – is extremely insulting to someone of his Romany ethnicity. However, they didn’t stop using it as if it were his name and to describe him to others.  They also gave him a password and/or email address that contained the ‘p’ word and refused to change it for him.  He was told during a welfare meeting that he would have to use it and change it himself.  This series of events culminated in a final straw event, causing him so much distress that he is now on long-term sickness absence and may never work again.  He’s lost all confidence in being able to work because of what has happened to him.

Direct Discrimination

The legal test for the Tribunal to determine in direct discrimination such as this is whether

              “a person (A) discriminates against another (B) if, because of a protected characteristic, A treats B less favourably than                 A treats or would treat others.”


The test for harassment is whether

               “a person (A) harasses another (B) if :-

               (a) A engages in unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, and

               (b) the conduct has the purpose or effect of—

               (i) violating B’s dignity, or

               (ii) creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for B.”

The ‘less favourable’ treatment and ‘unwanted conduct’ in this case is calling him the ‘p’ word, then making an email address and/or password containing the ‘p’ word. Also then insisting he must use them or change them himself, knowing how distressing and insulting the ‘p’ word is to him.  As this is a harassment case, our client is entitled to ask the Employment Tribunal to award personal injury damages as part of its’ award of damages against the respondents.

Way Forward

I’m sure we’ll have a difficult road ahead – this is a high-value claim that the respondents will all try to keep out of.  They will probably make it extremely difficult for our client to pursue his case.  However, this type of case is vital in creating an understanding that racial abuse is unacceptable. That such behaviour can lead the abuser into some ‘deep waters’.

One of the respondents is an individual and not a company.  I’m sure he didn’t think he would end up defending claims based on taunts and insults he used against a direct report.  If in doubt, our advice would be to say something else and be aware that racial abuse, as with all forms of abuse, is never acceptable.


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