Comment made about Muslim employee supporting IS was not, when put in context, harassment (Bakkali v Greater Manchester Buses (South) Limited t/a Stage Coach Manchester, EAT)
In Bakkali v Greater Manchester Buses (South) Limited t/a Stage Coach Manchester UKEAT/0176/17/RN the Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) held that a comment made about a Muslim employee supporting Daesh did not, in the context it was made, constitute harassment (as it related to a previous conversation that had been engaged in and not the relevant employee’s religious belief).
The factual background of Bakkali v Greater Manchester Buses (South) Limited t/a Stage Coach Manchester
Mr Bakkali commenced employment on 14 July 2008 and worked as a bus driver; Mr Bakkali identifies as Moroccan and Muslim.
In early October 2015 Mr Bakkali had a conversation with Mr Cotter, a colleague. In this conversation Mr Bakkali informed Mr Cotter about a news report made by a German journalist who went to Syria and spoke to Islamic State (“IS”) fighters; Mr Bakkali quoted some of the article as follows: “… Mosul… was a ‘totalitarian state’ , and that they (IS), are trying to enforce law and order upon its subjects, and that they are confident and proficient fighters…”.
On 19 October 2015 Mr Bakkali and Mr Cotter were sitting in the work canteen. Mr Cotter asked Mr Bakkali “are you still promoting IS/Daesh”. There was then an altercation between Mr Bakkali and Mr Cotter in which Mr Bakkali was described (by a number of people present) as being aggressive.
Mr Cotter subsequently apologised for upsetting Mr Bakkali; Mr Bakkali was subjected to a disciplinary and was summarily dismissed on allegations that he had been threatening and abusive on 19 October 2015.
Mr Bakkali appealed against his dismissal but his appeals were unsuccessful.
Mr Bakkali subsequently made claims to the Employment Tribunal for unfair dismissal, direct race discrimination, race-related harassment, and religious belief harassment.
The decision of the Employment Tribunal
The Employment Tribunal dismissed Mr Bakkali’s claims. In respect of the claims of harassment (both religious belief and race-related harassment), the Employment Tribunal held that: 1) the incident on 19 October 2015 had, on the evidence, nothing to do with Mr Bakkali’s race; and 2) with regards to Mr Bakkali’s religious belief, the context of the comment on 19 October 2015 related to the previous conversation that Mr Bakkali and Mr Cotter had engaged in about the news report and not Mr Bakkali’s religious belief per se.
Mr Bakkali appealed against the Employment Tribunal’s decision on harassment.
The decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal
The EAT upheld the Employment Tribunal’s decision, holding:
- The Employment Tribunal had not made an error of law in holding that there was no evidence to support the claim of race-related harassment (in relation to the incident on 19 October 2015); and
- The Employment Tribunal had not made an error of law in holding that the incident on 19 October 2015 did not relate to Mr Bakkali’s religious belief, as it had found on the facts that it related to the previous conversation (Richmond Pharmacology v Dhaliwal  ICR 724 applied)
Our solicitors’ comments on Bakkali v Greater Manchester Buses (South) Limited t/a Stage Coach Manchester
Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “This case shows that context is key in arguing claims of harassment in the Employment Tribunal – the parties must be careful to ensure that the full facts are laid out before the Employment Tribunal in order to ensure that any comments made are put in the relevant context”.
The transcript of the EAT’s decision in Bakkali v Greater Manchester Buses (South) Limited t/a Stage Coach Manchester can be found here.