Employee loses unfair dismissal claim after using racist language at work

An employee has lost his claim for unfair dismissal after he admitted using a racist word at work.

Mr Mann lost his claim for unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal after it was found that his employer, NSL Ltd, had acted fairly in dismissing him for using the word “n*gger” in front of colleagues at work.

Mr Mann, who was an ambulance care assistance at NSL Ltd, was having a conversation with three white male colleagues when he used the phrase “n*gger girl” to describe someone whom he had played in game of darts. A white female colleague overheard Mr Mann state this and challenged him on the use of this phrase at work; upon being challenged Mr Mann argued “that’s what she is”. The female colleague subsequently complained about Mr Mann’s conduct and a disciplinary process was commenced.

During the investigation into Mr Mann’s conduct he admitted using the racist word, with his colleagues corroborating this fact. Mr Mann said that he did not mean to say the word as a racist gesture but accepted that he would not say the word to a black or Asian person. Mr Mann was dismissed following a disciplinary hearing and appealed, with his appeal being rejected after a further hearing.

Following the rejection of his appeal Mr Mann made a claim for unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal, alleging that he had used the word as “local street talk” and that the term was not intended to be racist or derogatory and, further, that his dismissal was a disproportionate sanction. He also argued that a colleague had also used the word without being punished, and alleged that this amount to unfair treatment.

The claim came to the Employment Tribunal earlier this year, with the Employment Tribunal rejecting Mr Mann’s claim for unfair dismissal. The Tribunal found that Mr Mann was “clearly culpable” for his behaviour and that the employer had undertaken a fair and impartial investigation, basing their decision to dismiss on the facts gathered in that investigation. The Tribunal also found that the procedure used to dismiss Mr Mann was fair because the allegations were clearly put to him, he had the opportunity to respond, and Mr Mann was given the right to appeal against his dismissal.

The Tribunal also found that it made no difference that Mr Mann had not realised that anyone else was listening, nor that he did not mean to offend anyone. The Tribunal also commented that it was irrelevant that the comment was made to white people only.

Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “If an employee uses offensive language at work then this constitute grounds for the employee’s dismissal, depending on the circumstances. However, employers must make sure that they conduct a fair, thorough and impartial investigation into any allegations of offensive conduct and must ensure that any decision to dismiss is based upon the findings of that investigation. A failure to carry out a fair disciplinary procedure could mean that the employer opens itself up to a potentially successful Employment Tribunal claim.”