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Council Worker Wins Pot Plant Harassment Case

Council Worker Wins Pot Plant Harassment Case

A Westminster City Council worker who took a racial harassment case involving a pot plant to court two years ago has won his case. Benyam Kenbata said that he suffered discrimination because a colleague’s desk plant “restricted the ease with which he could hold discussions with colleagues.”

The council’s human resources department denied any racial discrimination. They said that the plant had simply “grown too high.”

He said: “I genuinely believed I was being unlawfully discriminated against. Working day in, day out with colleagues not effectively communicating with you about work for no apparent good reason is really difficult.”

Many prior allegations of racial discrimination and harassment

Mr Kenbata reportedly made 29 allegations of direct discrimination, racial harassment and victimisation to the London Central Employment Tribunal in 2015.

The tribunal service initially ruled against him, saying it was “quite satisfied that the positioning of the plant and its growth was not an act of direct discrimination nor harassment.”

Mr Kenbata appealed and a judge said the case should be reconsidered. The tribunal subsequently said that Mr Kenbata’s complaint “was not an act of mischief after all.” It said a discussion about the complaint in the council’s open-plan office was racial harassment as it should have taken place in private.

Nevertheless, the tribunal said Mr Kenbata should still pay £10,000 towards the council’s costs as he had acted “unreasonably” over other claims.

Drawn-out tribunals cost taxpayers money

In response to the ruling, a spokesperson for the council said it set “the highest standards in treating employees fairly”, adding: “We are pleased the tribunal agreed there was no foundation for a claim of direct race discrimination made against the individual. We note the finding that there was a minor act of harassment, albeit categorised as a one-off incident which fell close to the bottom of the scale in terms of injury to feelings.”

John O’Connell, the chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, a pressure group that campaigns for a low tax society, criticised the case. He said: “Long, drawn-out tribunals like this are in nobody’s interest. They hurt those involved as well as costing taxpayers. Reform of the system is needed.”

Racial discrimination still prevalent in UK offices, suggests survey

A 2015 ‘Race at Work’ report released by the charity Business in the Community found that only 55% of BAME employees felt that they were a valued member of their team, compared to 71% of white employees. The survey also found that 30% of those surveyed had witnessed or been a victim of racial harassment at work.

Sandra Kerr OBE, Race Equality Director at Business in the Community said: “It is clear that ethnic minorities’ experiences of work are still not equal to their white peers. Despite having greater enjoyment and ambition for work, the experience of the workplace processes and cultures for BAME employees is certainly not ideal. This is compounded by the extremely worrying finding that incidents of racial harassment and bullying appear to be on the rise. The scale of this challenge is immense and needs immediate action. As a result, we are making specific recommendations to both government and employers to ensure that the voices of 24,457 people are heard.”

Rosie Pollock, an inclusion and diversity consultant at Inclusive Employers, argued that employers should be taking greater measures to ensure that racial discrimination within the workplace is dealt with quickly and effectively. She said:

“[They] must focus on why it is not being dealt with in an effective manner before it escalates to tribunal rather than turning their focus to external factors.”

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