Case law | Employee awarded £25,000 for unlawful harassment
A recent development in unfair dismissal between Ms Muna Abdi v Deltec International Courier Limited lead to Ms Abdi being awarded £25,000
Tribunal finds that ‘highly offensive and threatening’ racial slurs made in a WhatsApp group chat – which included members of senior management – amounted to unlawful harassment and a decision to move the complainant ‘inadequate’. Ms Abdi is a black woman of Somali origin, and she wears a hijab. She was employed as an Evening Operations Clerk reporting to Mr Simon Hocking.
On 10 August 2018, Ms Abdi was engaged in a discussion on the topic of white privilege with three of her colleagues, Mr Tyrel Tripp, Mr Brandon Tripp and Mr Oliver Rolls. The discussion became ‘heated’ when Ms Abdi challenged her colleagues’ comment that ‘the majority of crimes in England are made by black people’.
Later that same day, and in the course of her duties, Ms Abdi used a colleague’s login details to log into her computer. Once logged on, Ms Abdi noticed a WhatsApp group chat which included Mr Hocking and those colleagues involved in the earlier discussion.
Interspersed within the exchange were highly offensive and threatening comments including threats of violence towards Ms Abdi personally. The tribunal found the offending comments came around the time of, or just after, the discussion regarding white privilege and crime.
Ms Abdi complained to Mr Hocking about the discussion. He failed to take the complaints seriously and called it a ‘he said, she said’ scenario. She went onto record her conversations with Mr Hocking after discovering him on the WhatsApp group chat and recorded him saying, ‘I hate racism [but] [a]ll that’s going to happen is going to be you and [another colleague] versus them three and it’s just going to go around and around in circles.’ Ms Abdi didn’t progress matters as she was already engaged in a grievance regarding her pay and stolen property.
On 14 August 2018, Ms Abdi logged into the same computer and noticed that the WhatsApp exchange was continuing. This time the group chat icon had changed to a black hijab and its name was now ‘ALHAMDULLAH’. Comments about Ms Abdi, and another colleague, included references to ‘Muna’, ‘ham’ and more remarks about hijabs.
Ms Abdi took screenshots of the WhatsApp exchange and sent them to a member of senior management. They were forwarded to the CEO, Mr Cunningham, who commented that it contained ‘extremely inappropriate and foul language, some derogatory and deeply unpleasant comments made about [Ms Abdi and another colleague]’. He went on to state that whilst the participants thought they were ‘being amusing’ the comments were actually ‘offensive’.
Mr Cunningham’s priority was to ‘quickly move’ Ms Abdi away from the WhatsApp group chat participants, before embarking on his investigation. Ms Abdi was upset about the move but described being ‘happy with it because she did not want to disagree with the CEO’. Despite the move, Ms Abdi still had to face her colleagues. She told the tribunal that Mr Hocking regularly came in staring at her and the others would look with ‘smirking faces’.
The tribunal deemed Mr Cunningham’s handling of the matter – in moving Ms Abdi – to be ‘inadequate’. They referenced the expressions of hate in the WhatsApp group chat and threats of physical violence, that was condoned by Mr Hocking who would continue to have everyday contact with Ms Abdi, as her line manager.
Mr Hocking and Mr Brandon Tripp later received a final written warning. Mr Tyrel Tripp and Mr Rolls, who were still in their probationary periods, were deemed unsuitable and their employment was terminated. Ms Abdi resigned with immediate effect on 1 September 2018.
Ms Abdi’s complaint of unlawful harassment on the grounds of sex, race and religious belief was successful.
Ms Abdi was awarded £20,000 for injury to feelings (and £4,945.72 for other losses) at a remedy hearing on 8 June 2021.
Employment Judge Skehan identified that the unlawful harassment ‘was felt by [Ms Abdi] whether intentional or not, as an expression of hate for her religion, ethnic origin and gender’. Furthermore, Mr Cunningham dealt with Ms Abdi’s complaint in a way ‘whereby the end result was that [she] had continued interaction with some of those responsible for the unlawful harassment causing further upset.’