White British admin worker who was in ‘minority’ at transport company wins £2,500 racism claim after his Asian boss branded English people ‘lazy’ and colleagues joked he was ‘drunk’
- James Heeley said he was repeatedly teased about his nationality by colleagues
- Employment tribunal found he was victim of race discrimination and harassment
- Boss Gurvinder Singh Birk was ordered to pay Mr Heeley £2,500 compensation
A British employee has won a racism claim after his boss said English people were ‘lazy’.
James Heeley said he was repeatedly teased about his nationality by colleagues who asked whether he was ‘still drunk’ and accused him of being workshy.
The transport administrator worked for Peterborough-based transport company, Birk Holdings, and was one of five white British employees out of 16 staff.
On one occasion, he claimed he overheard boss Gurvinder Singh Birk, saying: ‘No more English drivers should be used as they are lazy and only interested in claiming benefits.’
An employment tribunal found Mr Heeley was the victim of race discrimination and harassment and ordered his former employer to pay him £2,500 compensation.
The panel heard that on one occasion, employees Wiktoria Kolenska (left) and Sandra Liutkevciene (right) said: ‘[We] can tell you’re British as you don’t have your coat on, are you still drunk from last night?’
While the company claimed staff had ‘just been joking’, the panel disagreed, adding in its ruling: ‘Many extremely unpleasant behaviours can be dressed up as jokes but it is no excuse.’
The hearing in Bury St Edmunds was told Mr Heeley began working for the Peterborough-based transport company, Birk Holdings in October 2017.
At the time five of its 16 employees were white British, and the panel heard this put Mr Heeley ‘in the minority’.
From February 2018 to February of the following year, the tribunal found Mr Heeley was the victim of numerous discriminatory comments made by his fellow colleagues.
He told the hearing that senior employees had said, ‘English drivers do drive slowly’ and that Mr Heeley did ‘not do a lot of work because he’s English’.
The panel heard that on one occasion, employees Wiktoria Kolenska and Sandra Liutkevciene said to him: ‘[We] can tell you’re British as you don’t have your coat on, are you still drunk from last night?’
After Mr Heeley took a few days off sick, he told the court that another employee, Vilius Augustis, had said: ‘Oh, the lazy English worker has decided to come back to work.’
The panel heard that manager Mr Birk also told another senior employee not to hire British workers because they ‘can turn you down easily and claim benefits.’
Mr Augustis allegedly said to Mr Heeley: ‘Lazy English workers are always off sick,’ the tribunal was told.
At the tribunal another employee had argued that the comments were ‘mere jokes’ made by colleagues by his ‘perceived friends’ and that Mr Heeley would ‘join in’.
He was fired on March 15, 2019, by Mr Birk who cited concerns about his performance, attendance and time keeping.
An employment tribunal in in Bury St Edmunds found Mr Heeley was the victim of race discrimination and harassment and ordered his former employer to pay him £2,500 compensation
But the panel, chaired by Employment Judge Jennifer Bartlett, concluded that he had been discriminated against.
‘We consider that the comments are serious such that they create a hostile and/or intimidating environment because they are by a number of reasonably senior individuals, over a period of time, repeated and in a workplace in which the claimant was a minority,’ it said.
‘We do not accept that the fact that he called some of the comments jokes undermines their effect on him. Many extremely unpleasant behaviours can be dressed up as jokes but it is no excuse.’
Mr Heeley was awarded £2,500 for injury to feelings and a further £961.74 for a breach of employment law.
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