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April’s top five employment law cases

3 May 2019 By PM Editorial

People Management runs down the most-read tribunals of the last month – from diabetes discrimination to a diversity faux pas

1. Cleaner suffered racial harassment when offensive terms were used in diversity training

A cleaner won a claim for racial harassment after participating in an equality and diversity training course featuring racial slurs which left her “deeply offended and uncomfortable”.

Cardiff Employment Tribunal ruled unanimously in favour of Theresa Georges after it found her employer held a course in which the use of racial epithets amounted to racial harassment. Georges alleged that the facilitator of the session wrote the ‘N-word’ in full on a flipchart, and it was then repeated three times by other colleagues in the context of a training session on discriminatory words.

Georges’ employer, Pobl Group, has apologised for the incident and told People Management it had already made changes as a result of the case.

2. Employer not liable for injuries of staff member ‘dropped on Christmas party dance floor’

A charity worker lost a £300,000 compensation claim she filed for back injuries she sustained after she was lifted up and subsequently dropped at a workplace Christmas party. The High Court ruled a payout in such circumstances could be seen as “health and safety gone mad”.

Sandra Shelbourne, who worked as an animal technician for Cancer Research UK, sued the charity after suffering “devastating” back injuries she claims were sustained after she was “manhandled” at the charity’s 2012 Christmas party by a visiting Cambridge University scientist who had been working with the organisation. 

Judge Catford found the scientist who dropped Shelbourne would have been personally liable, however he was not being sued. He ruled Shelbourne had no grounds to claim against Cancer Research UK on the basis of negligence or vicarious liability because the accident was not reasonably foreseeable. 

3. Employee with diabetes ‘humiliated’ at work awarded £14k for disability discrimination

An employee with type 1 diabetes who was left feeling “intimidated, under the spotlight and concerned for her job” was been awarded £14,000 for disability discrimination and harassment.

An employment tribunal at East London Hearing Centre determined that from the outset of her two months’ employment as a fleet administrator at Weston Homes, Holly Carr was “humiliated” and “highly embarrassed” as a result of the treatment she received at the housing company.

As well as being taken around the office and introduced to first-aiders as “a diabetic”, at one point Carr was also told not to tell a colleague about an incident of low blood sugar or she would be “sacked on the spot”.

Weston Homes said it was "extremely disappointed" in the tribunal's judgment, adding that the firm "totally rejects the allegations made by Mrs Carr and has contested them vigorously'.'

4. Energy giant fined £230,000 for unfairly dismissing employee that ‘HR didn’t know how to deal with’

One of the UK’s largest energy providers was ordered to pay an employee £230,000 for unfair dismissal after an HR process a judge said was "reminiscent of a show trial in the former Soviet Union".

Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) said Donald Nutt was laid off because of “a breakdown in trust and confidence” between him and his employer following a grievance Nutt had raised about health and safety issues. However, employment Judge McFatridge said Nutt had been sacked because the business did not know what to do with him.

He added: “There were many, many examples of extremely poor practice and there had been genuine unfairness to Mr Nutt on a substantial number of occasions."

5. Office administrator discovered male replacement was being paid £3,500 more for same role

A finance administrator whose male replacement was paid £3,500 more than her while fulfilling an essentially identical role was discriminated against under equal pay law, Leeds Employment Tribunal found. 

Ms J Broom had worked at Wakefield-based care provider Alternative Care Ltd for nearly two years before she resigned, leaving the business as the finance administrator/financial manager with a salary of £18,000. After she left, the business initially advertised for a new office administrator. However the director Gaynor Smith then decided to approach her daughter’s partner, Kieren Sartori, to fill the role.

Sartori accepted the offer, with official documentation stating he would be appointed as a finance administrator. The offer came with a £21,500 salary – £3,500 more than Broom had been paid.

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