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Essex Council to Appeal Racial Discrimination Claim

Friday, 28 November 2014

A widely publicised employment tribunal case is to be appealed after the tribunal found that an employee of Essex Legal Services (ELS) was unfairly dismissed due to racial discrimination.

The employment tribunal ruled that a manager at ELS has been unfairly dismissed after unjust criticism had been leveled at her and that she had, on the balance of probabilities, lost her job because of her race.

The case attracted mainstream media attention because in the depths of the 59 page judgment it transpired that Philip Thomson, the director of ELS and the president of Lawyers in Local Government made ‘inappropriate references to Hitler’.

Facts of the Employment Tribunal Claim

Evelyne Jarrett, a solicitor in her fifties, was the most senior black manager at ELS, the award-winning in-house legal service of Essex County Council. Ms Jarrett worked as a solicitor at ELS which, two and a half years into her employment, became the subject of a restructuring. ELS, priding itself in its ‘innovative vision’ at the ‘forefront of developing shared legal services’ had intended to become one of the few local government legal organisations that was seeking alternative business structure status.

During the restructuring, Ms Jarrett claimed that she had been discouraged and effectively passed over for the consideration of the role of head of dispute resolution. She was offered an alternative employment opportunity which she considered unsuitable. She also claimed that she had been treated ‘unfairly, unreasonably and inconsistently’ by the director of ELS Mr Thomson, who cumulatively made ‘inappropriate references to Hitler,’ gave ‘inappropriate nicknames’ to other staff members and created a working environment which was not conducive to respect of diversity.

Finally Ms Jarrett claimed that she was unfairly dismissed in April 2012, without the opportunity for redundancy payment as a result of the fact that she had been offered an alternative employment opportunity which she declined. The case went before an employment tribunal in Colchester, with judgment handed down by Judge Martin Warren.

Judgment of the Employment Tribunal Claim

During the trial, evidence was presented against Mr Thomson, including his unjust criticism of Ms Jarrett, his characterisation of Ms Jarrett as ‘Evil Lynne,’ and his own office nickname of ‘Piggy Eyes,’ given to him because of the way he allegedly ogled women at the workplace. Following an 8-day hearing, the tribunal gave a judgment, although not unanimously siding with Ms Jarrett.

The judgment stated that ‘a person of ethnic minority origins is bound to feel disadvantaged in a workplace managed by a person who considers it acceptable to make any positive reference, of any kind, to Hitler’. It also accepted that Ms Jarrett had been unfairly dismissed and denied redundancy payments.

However, the tribunal also rejected her claims that she was discouraged from applying for the dispute resolution head, and similarly did not uphold Ms Jarrett’s claims that the council’s internal appraisal system was racially discriminating.

Aftermath of the Tribunal Hearing

An ELS spokesperson commented on the ‘shocking and disappointing’ finding of the tribunal but Ms Jarrett’s solicitor Anthony Robinson pointed out that the case was an example of ‘one of the worst examples’ of discrimination at the workplace he had ever experienced. ELS are appealing the decision.

Anyone facing any type of discrimination in the workplace should seek immediate legal advice. The Equality Act 2010 offers considerable protection to individuals suffering from a wide range of discrimination issues including age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. For specialist advice contact Aneil Balgobin via e-mail or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.

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