Griffin v Hyder Brothers Ltd – no race discrimination when employee’s colleagues sometimes conversed in Urdu

In the first of our series of posts on ‘archived cases’, we take a look at the case of Griffin v Hyder Brothers Ltd ET/2406224/2011. In this case the Employment Tribunal held that employees spoke languages an employee could not understand (such as Punjabi and Urdu) in his presence did not constitute race-related harassment.

The facts in Griffin v Hyder Brothers Ltd

Mr Griffin worked as a supervisor at a petrol station, which was taken over by Hyder Brothers Ltd (run by a Mr Hyder) in June 2010. In the months after June 2010 Mr Griffin experienced a number of issues with his new employer, among them:

  • That he believed he was being isolated and “sidelined” by Mr Hyder, with his belief that Mr Hyder wished to bring in a person named Ahmed to replace him
  • That he believed he was being deliberately excluded when colleagues spoke Punjabi or Urbu (languages he did not understand) in his presence in the workplace

Mr Griffin subsequently brought (among others) claims for direct race discrimination and race-related harassment, arguing that the use of languages other than English in his presence constituted race-related harassment.

The Employment Tribunal’s decision

The Employment Tribunal dismissed Mr Griffin’s claims, holding that the use of languages that Mr Griffin could not understand in his presence did not constitute direct race discrimination or race-related harassment:

  • Direct race discrimination: the Tribunal held that conversations in a language used to marginalize Mr Griffin could potentially be prohibited conduct under section 39(2) of the Equality Act 2010, but also held that the use of languages other than English was not intended to upset him or exclude him; the use of their first language was simply for the respective colleagues’ ease and convenience. The Tribunal held that there was therefore no detriment to Mr Griffin. Further, the Tribunal held that Mr Griffin had not been treated less favourably than his colleagues – the Tribunal held that individuals who spoke in their first language in front of Mr Griffin would have treated a colleague who was not of Mr Griffin’s race and/or nationality in the same way.
  • Race-related harassment: the Tribunal held that, in speaking their first language, his colleagues did not have the intention of violating Mr Griffin’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him. Further, the Tribunal held that the conduct of Mr Griffin’s colleagues could not reasonably be said to have created such an environment for him

Our solicitors’ comments

Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “This case is welcome news for employers, as it shows that the occasional (and natural) use of a shared first language that is not English by colleagues in the presence of English-speaking employees is unlikely to amount to discrimination.”