Female black employee wins £2,000 in Employment Tribunal victimisation claim (Miss L Nzinga v Straight Talking Peer Education – ET/2302345/2019)

In the case of Nzinga v Straight Talking Peer Education ET/2302345/2019 an Employment Tribunal found that an employee had been victimised after she submitted complaints that she had been subjected to racial discrimination, awarding her over £2,000 in compensation.

The facts in Miss L Nzinga v Straight Talking Peer Education

Miss L Nzinga (the “Claimant”) commenced her employment with Straight Talking Education (the “Respondent”) on 16 April 2016 on a temporary contract as a Peer Educator, Stage One.  The Claimant was responsible for conducting workshops in secondary schools to reduce teenage pregnancy and overseeing the coordination of the respondent’s Prevention Project and Peer Education Scheme. Her role comprised of 3 key functions: school bookings, recruitment of Peer Educators; and new projects supporting the growth of the Respondent. Her contract of employment was extended in September 2016 and she was required to work 24 hours per week.

In June 2018, the Claimant and another employee raised grievances against one of the management team (HP). The complaints were that HP had made various comments that they considered to be racially offensive. The board of trustees discussed the complaints and came to the conclusions that disciplinary proceedings should be instigated against HP.

A disciplinary hearing took place on 28 June 2018 as a result of which HP received a written warning and was required to undertake diversity coaching. Other staff raised concerns about HP which included allegations that remarks she had made could be seen as racist and staff took part in unofficial industrial action in protest. A letter was sent to staff pointing out the action was unauthorised and thus unpaid, which was also sent to the Claimant, although she was not present at work on the day of the letter sent 17 August 2018.

On 5 September 2018 the Claimant emailed her grievance which set out events since the 28 June 2018 – the Claimant made the following complaints:

  • That on 20 July 2018 the Claimant had, at a meeting with HP, discussed her request for a company loan. During that meeting HP made critical comments about the Claimant’s partner and his contribution to her finances
  • That on 6 August 2018 HP had said, noticing her presence in the room: “oh I didn’t see you there! You’re so dark you just sort of blended in.  Your shirt is black, the chair is black and you’ve just sort of blended in”.

On 20 September 2018 the Claimant attended a meeting to discuss her grievance, and her complaints were partially or wholly upheld.

On 20 November 2018 HP received a final written warning in relation to a number of complaints raised by staff, including the Claimant, which were said to breach the Equality and Diversity policy. The Claimant was not informed of this.

On 30 November 2018, the Claimant, along with other members of staff, was suspended on full pay. The Claimant’s suspension letter, dated 2 December 2018, stated that the suspension was pending an investigation into an allegation that she may have breached the respondent’s Bullying and Harassment policy due to an impromptu meeting alleging she was amongst a group of staff who had conspired to seriously bully and harass one of the managers. She was invited to a disciplinary meeting.

On 11 January 2019, the Claimant lodged a counter-grievance alleging bullying and harassment in relation to her suspension.

The Claimant attended an investigatory meeting on 30 January 2019 which she recorded (without the business’ consent). The outcome of the investigation was insufficient evidence to support any disciplinary action.

The Claimant’s grievance dated 11 January 2019 was not upheld and the Claimant was not interviewed as part of the investigation process. On 21 February 2019, HP notified the Board she would be retiring from her role on Friday, 8th May 2020.

On 9 April 2019 the Claimant went to the doctor and was signed off with work related stress between 8 April and 3 May 2019.

The Claimant signed a new contract on 15 April 2019 with another employer (The Departure Lounge) while she was on sick leave.

On 2 May 2019, the Claimant wrote to the Respondent resigning with immediate effect.  In her letter she stated:

 “Dear John Botterill

I have tried to get in contact with you a countless amount of times regarding the Harassment and Bullying claim I made against Brian Van-Du and Lewis Brown with no reply as well as my issues regarding Hillary’s return to work. It is with a heavy heart that I have to inform you that I will be resigning from Straight Talking Peer Education effective immediately, due to poor management of the way I am treated by the CEO, C00, and trustees.

My time at STPE has caused an enormous amount of stress, anxiety and contributed to a lot of issues in my life, I see no other choice but to leave. I came to STPE to gain skills and to be empowered as a young parent but that is not the lesson I am leaving with.

Regards Lubamba Nzinga (Bambii)”

The decision of the Employment Tribunal

The Employment Tribunal found in favour of the Claimant in her claim for victimisation.

The victimisation claim

The Claimant had made the following ‘protected acts’:

  • The collective grievance in June 2018 (a complaint regarding racially offensive comments) 
  • The grievance of 5 Sept 2018 (a complaint regarding a particular racially offensive comment)
  • The email of 11 January 2019: as it referred to victimisation faced due to raising complaints of racism

The Employment Tribunal held that the Claimant had been subjected to the following detriments as a result of her protected acts: the Respondent’s failure to deal with the Claimant’s grievance dated 11 January 2019; and a threat to monitor the Claimant’s performance in the workplace after she submitted her grievances.

The Claimant’s other claims

The Claimant’s other claim for constructive dismissal was not upheld.

The Claimant was awarded £2,499.83 as compensation for her claim for victimisation, comprised of £2,000 in respect of injury to feelings and interest thereon.

Our lawyers’ views on the case

Chris Hadrill, partner in the employment team at Redmans, commented on the case: “Employers must be careful to deal with grievances from employees fairly and promptly, otherwise they may face a (potentially successful) claim for victimisation in the Employment Tribunal, as in this case.”

The judgment of the Employment Tribunal in Nzinga v Straight Talking Peer Education ET/2302345/2019 can be found here.