Travel agency manager awarded £84,000 in race discrimination case

Tribunal finds dismissal of employee racially abused by colleague was act of race victimisation

A travel agency manager has been awarded over £84,000 after a London employment tribunal found he had been subject to race discrimination and victimisation by his former employer. 

The tribunal found Mr M Massamba, who worked as a business and marketing development manager at family-owned travel agency IKB Travel and Tours from 1 February 2016 until his dismissal on 6 October the same year, suffered race discrimination through a comment from a co-worker.

It also ruled his dismissal was an act of race victimisation, as was the failure to communicate the outcome of an appeal to him.

Massamba told the tribunal that on 28 September 2016, his colleague Abdalla Ahmed called him a “black monkey” in the office. Massamba stated multiple employees were present when the comment was made, including Yaser Al Khafaji, who was general manager Saad Al Khafaji’s son, and worked as assistant to managing director Abir Burhan, son of founder and director Imad Burhan. An accounts assistant was also present.

Massamba said Yaser Al Khafaji laughed at the comment, and Ahmed allegedly said: “that’s good right”. The accounts assistant said it was “offensive and rude”, and Massamba also told Ahmed it was offensive. 

Massamba told Yaser Al Khafaji the next day the remark had caused deep offence and he was upset, to which Al Khafaji replied Ahmed was “an old man, and you joke with him at times”. Massamba reiterated it was a serious matter and Abir Burhan should be informed.

The tribunal heard Yaser Al Khafaji said it was “no big deal” and suggested Massamba did not report it to Abir Burhan.

The day after the incident, on 29 September, Massamba called Abir Burhan to report the incident, but his call was not answered. On 30 September, he formally complained in an email addressed to Saad Al Khafaji and copied to Imad Burhan. Both were in Iraq at the time.

IKB Travel and Tours told the tribunal Massamba fabricated this allegation, “knowing that his employment was precarious because of his poor performance”.

During Massamba’s employment, a number of underperformance issues had been raised, including that Massamba failed to tell Abir Burhan that the company’s name had been denoted incorrectly on an invoice. In another incident, Massamba was reprimanded for not using headed notepaper.

However, the tribunal found this “inherently unlikely” as these warnings were never documented or subsequently referred to other than after Massamba’s dismissal.

The tribunal also questioned the seriousness of the performance issues. It said the issues during Massamba’s probation were relatively minor in nature, that it was “hard to understand how [the invoicing issue] could possibly be raised as a criticism”. It added Massamba’s failure to use headed notepaper was also “a trivial error, if error it was”.

Just days before the racist remark was made, there was another incident in which Massamba was asked to call and email a supplier. Massamba spoke to the supplier on the phone and an email was not necessary, as a note had been made in their file. Massamba communicated to Burhan, who responded with an email criticism of Massamba for not emailing as asked. He added Massamba should consider the email a warning.

The tribunal also said Burhan’s response to the email incident was “unduly hostile, harsh and bound to antagonise the employee”, and said no reasonable manager would have issued a warning in those circumstances.

On 3 October, five days after the racist remark was made, Massamba did not feel well enough to go to work and he sent an email to Saad Al Khafaji, who was still in Iraq, explaining this and saying he “should hopefully be back to work” by 6 October. He copied it to Yaser Al Khafaji.

On 4 October he received an email from Abir Burhan, who told Massamba he should have also been informed, and next day Burhan emailed again alleging Massamba had not let anyone know he would be off.

Massamba told the tribunal that when he returned to work on 6 October, Burhan invited him to a meeting, during which he gave Massamba a letter of dismissal stating Massamba had not grown into the role, the job was not right for him and he was being terminated with immediate effect.

The tribunal heard that after this, Burhan asked Massamba if he would like to remain in his current job, to which Massamba said: “You just terminated me, so why would you ask me if I want to stay in the job?”

Burhan told the tribunal he wanted Massamba to apologise and ask for his job back, and admitted he knew nothing about correct procedures, Acas guidance or unfair dismissal. 

Massamba internally appealed his dismissal and told Saad Al Khafaji his belief was that the real reason for his dimissal was that Al Khafaji did not want to deal with racial abuse and discrimination, so instead of taking up this issue with Ahmed, Massamba was dismissed “under a false catalogue of alleged wrong doings”. 

The tribunal found IKB Travel and Tours did not communicate the appeal outcome to Massamba.

Massamba brought claims of race discrimination and automatic unfair dismissal to the London Central tribunal in February 2017. The tribunal unanimously ruled Massamba suffered race discrimination and victimisation by his ex-employer. 

Judge Pearl said: “the suggestion that [Massamba] invented the remark so as to forestall an anticipated dismissal, or profit from it, is one we regard as groundless. The claimant’s account is straightforward and the respondent has not convincingly dealt with it in evidence.”

The tribunal awarded £84,358 in compensation for injury to feelings, personal injury, loss of wages, expenses and aggravated damages. 

Paul Holcroft, associate director of Croner, said there is no excuse for employers who fail to tackle allegations of racist comments or abuse or investigate complaints seriously. 

“The case confirms that employees who raise such complaints relating to discrimination on the grounds of their race or any other protected characteristic should not be subjected to a detriment or dismissed because they have raised this,” Holcroft said. 

He added a lack of documents or evidence setting out the internal processes and reviews an employee has undertaken may be detrimental when attempting to prove to an employment tribunal that later action was carried out lawfully.

IKB Travel and Tours has been approached for comment. Massamba could not be reached for comment.