A former NHS trust manager who was unfairly dismissed and suffered racial discrimination has been awarded a reported £1 million by London South Employment Tribunal.
Richard Hastings, an IT manager at King's College NHS Foundation Trust, was dismissed for gross misconduct in October 2015 after he was accused of assault following a dispute with a van driver in his workplace car park.
The tribunal ruled the investigation into the incident was “fundamentally flawed” due to unconscious racial bias.
It found that opportunities to collect further evidence to support Hastings’ claims of innocence were repeatedly missed and that Hastings – who was of African Caribbean origin – was treated less favourably than a white counterpart would have been. Investigators were said to have made up their minds about his guilt and only pursued evidence which would support this.
The tribunal heard that on 29 July 2015, Hastings was driving into the hospital car park when he approached a van that had sped aggressively past him, intending to note its registration number. The driver, named in court documents as Mr Archard, was allegedly abusive toward Hastings, swearing at him, “using the c-word,” and calling him “f***ing stupid”.
In his statement, Hastings recalled a second individual standing between him and the number plate. After giving Archard his name, the passenger allegedly kept insisting “that’s not your real name”, taken by Hastings to mean “he would not have such an ‘English sounding’ name for a black man”.
Hastings admitted the parties got into a “war of words” and he swore at Archard, but said in his defence he felt very threatened. Archard reportedly said: “What are you? Are you a f***ing manager?” and when Hastings confirmed that he did work at the hospital, Hastings stated that Archard replied: “Look! They’ll let anything happen here.”
Hastings admitted he called Archard a “f****ing idiot” and a “pussy”. He grew concerned the incident was turning physical when Archard placed his hand on Hastings’ forearm. Hastings admitted he “lifted his arm to extricate himself” and made contact with the contractor’s face, but denied having hit or punched him.
Hastings called the hospital’s security office for help but no record of the phone call was logged, although the office confirmed they had received the call. No one came to his aid.
Once the van drove away, the incident was reported. A member of security, named in court documents as Mr Taylor, contacted Archard, who said he believed he was the wronged party. Taylor told the tribunal that following the conversation, he viewed the CCTV of the incident and from this formed the view that Hastings had “pushed or punched” Archard.
In a statement given to aid the investigation, Archard claimed Hastings had bent down, sniffed his head and said that he “smelt like a dirty ****”. He also alleged Hastings said that he had “beaten and taken apart people like him”.
The director of ICT, Mr Sweeney, suspended Hastings on 31 July 2015. During the hearing, Sweeney admitted Hastings had said there was a racial element to the incident, but Sweeney said he had assumed it would be picked up in the investigation led by Taylor.
The “fundamentally flawed” investigation saw Hastings “interrogated” and the investigatory report “worded in a manner that called into question the veracity of [Hasting’s] evidence.” The tribunal found the trust guilty of unfair dismissal and racial discrimination.
“[Hastings] was treated less favourably because of race”, wrote Judge Sage. “We form this conclusion from the fact that [the] sole focus was on the claimant’s conduct. He was assumed to be the aggressor. The white witnesses were accepted to be the victims.”
A spokesperson for King's College NHS Foundation Trust said: “The Trust has apologised to Mr Hastings and we would like to extend that apology once again. King’s is proud to be a major multicultural employer serving one of the most diverse communities in the UK and has implemented a number of changes to improve the support given to its staff.”