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Tribunal rules Barking and Dagenham Council discriminated against workers on race and disability

PUBLISHED: 10:35 08 January 2019

Barking Town Hall. Pic: Ken Mears

Barking Town Hall. Pic: Ken Mears

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Barking and Dagenham Council has been rapped for the unfair dismissal of three people on its housing team in summer 2017, including two that faced race and disability discrimination.

During a five-day liability hearing, a tribunal found that one claimant, who came to the UK as a refugee in 1998, was discriminated against on the grounds of his race during a restructure that summer.

Two others were found to have been unfairly dismissed because they worked part-time and in one case this was also an act of disability discrimination.

At the hearing, which took place in October and November 2018, employment Judge Brown also ruled that the roles of all three had not been redundant.

The three officers are all members of the GMB union and were supported by solicitors Leigh Day. They are now claiming for compensation running into six figures.

Tony Warr, GMB’s head of legal in London, said: “This is a decision that should make all employers sit up and take stock of their selection procedures.

“Time and time again the GMB warned the C=council that the process implemented by management was flawed and that these cases would end in litigation.

“The decision highlights the necessity for an immediate review of how Barking and Dagenham Council push through their restructures, even after it has become clear that they are flawed, and how they select individuals for redundancy.”

All three of the claimants had been working as housing officers until they lost their jobs over summer 2017.

Housing officers carry out a range of duties from tenancy management and safeguarding to arranging repairs and asbestos removal.

The review took place in the wake of the government’s Housing and Planning Bill, which had led to a likely reduction in the council’s housing revenue account of £33.6million over four years.

Some 22 staff had accepted voluntary redundancy and 27 more had the chance to apply for one of 30 new property service manager (PSO) roles, which involved a written test and interview.

Muhamet Osmani, who is originally from Kosovo, was found to have been discriminated against on the grounds of race because he was not offered Google Translate or a dictionary to help him in the written tests, which Judge Brown noted he would have access to in his normal working life.

There was also evidence that Akin Otitoju, who had chaired the redundancy selection panel and marked the papers, had “subjected Mr Osmani to more scrutiny of his English language than other candidates”.

Further, they said: “Mr Osmani told the tribunal that… he felt under extreme pressure during the interview process because he wanted to keep the job that he had been undertaking for 18 years.

“His fears were exacerbated when, at the outset of the interview, Mr Otitoju told him that he had failed the written test. Mr Osmani said that the resulting anxiety led to further deterioration of his English skills.”

The other two claimants, Cherie Rogers and Sandra Darby, were found to have been subjected to less favourable treatment because they worked part-time.

Mrs Rogers had been caring for family members with serious disabilities from 2008 and separately in 2013 and 2014, but had been trying to increase her hours from February 2017.

The tribunal found she was awarded low marks in the selection process, where the requirement of a 65 per cent pass rate was “arbitrary and not justified”, because of working part-time – and her marks at interview had been added up incorrectly.

Mrs Darby, who had a shoulder injury, was also dismissed because of working part-time as a result of her disability, and the tribunal heard that Mr Otitoju “had said to her that he did not want part-time workers in the new structure”.

If the council does not appeal the trio’s compensation claims the remedy hearing will be held on March 18 and 19 this year.

Mr Warr added: “The GMB has always been willing to work with the Council and hope they will now sit down with us, involve the unions in the much-needed review and to ensure situations such as this do not arise in the future.”

A Barking and Dagenham Council spokesman said: “We do not tolerate discrimination on any grounds and take our obligations as an employer very seriously.

“This matter dates back 18 months and since then a number of internal structural and staff changes have taken place.

“We are currently reviewing the findings of the employment tribunal in detail to consider our position, which will include the merits of an appeal and any learning we can take from this.”

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