Belfast Telegraph

Belfast recruitment worker received £280,000 after being described as ‘gypsy’ and ‘pikey’

By Toni Fitzgerald Gunn, Worthingtons Solicitors

In the recent decision of Edward Bell v Cordant People Limited & Ors (2017), Mr Bell, an executive from Belfast with an Irish traveller background, was awarded over £280,000 after an employment tribunal in Manchester upheld his complaints of racial harassment and unfair dismissal.

Mr Bell, an established recruitment executive, joined one of the UK’s largest recruitment companies, Cordant People Limited, in 2014. In 2015, the respondent bought over recruitment firm, Staffgroup Ltd for £21m in a major takeover deal for the company.

The claimant suspected that the recently bought-over, Staffgroup Ltd had falsified invoices and declared a falsely elevated profit, meaning that the respondent had potentially purchased the company at an overinflated price.

Intending to protect his employer’s commercial interests, he made a series of protected disclosures to his line-manager, Mr Barnes, about his concerns. After making the disclosures, the claimant was subjected to intense scrutiny and he received criticism for his alleged poor performance.

In addition to criticisms about his work, Mr Bell claimed that he was subjected to discrimination, harassment and victimisation on the grounds of his race.

The tribunal heard that the claimant was frequently subjected to disparaging comments from his line-manager, relating to his Irish Traveller background. Mr Bell gave evidence that in the workplace he was called a “tinker”, “gypo” and “pikey” and that “a lot of it happened during board meetings”.

Mr Bell claimed that this treatment worsened after he was accused of whistle-blowing by his line-manager, with his colleagues describing him as a “paddy” and joking about him turning up to board meetings “in his horse and cart” in internal emails.

Outside the office, Mr Bell also experienced harassment during work social events where his Irish Traveller background was discussed and he was described by colleagues as “scruffy” and dressing “like a gypsy”.

The claimant was placed on garden leave at the end of September 2015 and his employment terminated with six months’ notice, following allegations of poor performance. In response to this the claimant submitted a grievance in relation to the treatment he had experienced and requested further evidence of his alleged poor performance. This grievance was not upheld and the claimant was ultimately dismissed.

In considering the claimant’s case, tribunal chair, Judge Hilary Slater, dismissed the respondent’s arguments that criticisms of the claimant’s performance were well-founded, finding Mr Bell to be an excellent employee whose performance has resulted in an increase in his salary from £70,000 per annum to £90,000 in June 2015.

The tribunal did not find the claimant’s complaints of direct discrimination and victimisation to be well founded but did uphold Mr Bell’s claim for harassment, finding the derogatory comments he was subjected to as a result of his Irish Traveller background “had the effect of violating the claimant’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the claimant.”

Mr Bell was awarded over £280,000.

  • Toni Fitzgerald Gunn is a solicitor in Worthingtons Commercial Solicitors, Belfast, where she specialises in Employment Law. She can be contacted on 02890434015.

Belfast Telegraph

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