Department of Work and Pensions ordered to make huge payout to ex-employee

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been ordered to pay more than £370,000 to a former employee who was subject to discriminatory behaviour and harassment related to her age and race. The tribunal also criticised the DWP’s equality and diversity training as “not fit for purpose” and ordered the government department to seek advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

The claimant was 55-years-old and of Nigerian-Welsh origin. Among the group of nine trainees taken on at the time of her employment she was the only non-white recruit and the only trainee over 50-years-old. The tribunal heard that, for some of the trainees, this was their first ‘proper job’. There was “a lot of banter” in the group and it was found that some members “did not always behave in a professional manner”.

The claimant said that she was targeted repeatedly and faced multiple instances of “unwanted treatment” from colleagues, including incidents of bullying, being wrongly accused of stealing and having deodorant deliberately sprayed around her after she had complained about someone else spraying deodorant.

She raised a grievance which was not upheld as, following interviews with her fellow trainees, it had been concluded there was “no malicious intent to cause offence”, and that “the context in which [the events] occurred have not been interpreted as offensive or intimidating by anyone else”.
The grievance appeal was unsuccessful. In the appeal outcome notice, she was informed that, in respect to her claims of age discrimination, “you did not actually tell your colleagues at any time how old you were”, and that it was “part of human nature” for individuals to form opinions based on such matters when they met someone.

The tribunal concluded that the claimant had been exposed to a range of unwanted conduct that amounted to harassment as a result of her age and race and said that “none of the DWP managers appeared to appreciate the impact discrimination and even perceived discrimination can have on an employee.” It said neither of the grievance investigators “appeared to understand that harassment can occur when conduct is having the effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for an employee (regardless of the other employee’s motive)”.

The DWP was ordered to pay £376,059 in compensation in respect of injury to feelings, lost earnings and future losses. The tribunal also ordered the DWP to approach the EHRC and seek its assistance in reviewing the DWP’s equality and diversity awareness training by May 2021.

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