Receptionist wins race discrimination claim

A receptionist has won her claim for race discrimination after colleagues asked her whether she’d touched an electrical socket ‘to make her hair like that’. The receptionist had been on the receiving end of the remark twice and told the tribunal that she had also heard one colleague use the N-word seven times. As one of only two black employees at the company, she had complained.

Six months into her new job, she emailed her managers to complain about racist remarks made by one colleague.  A month later she sent another email about offensive remarks made by another colleague.

The employment judge noted that the comments made were “similar, remarking about what electrical sockets the receptionist had touched to make her hair like that”.  The comments were made when she had her hair untied and open.

An employee who had used the N-word was spoken to about the inappropriateness of the term and others were given verbal warnings about their behaviour but the receptionist felt that her concerns were not being addressed properly and emailed managers.  She was invited to a grievance investigation meeting. Other than the comments about her hair, which were found to be indirectly discriminatory, her other concerns were dismissed.

Following an operational review, the company was required to reduce costs by 10% and was forced to place several positions in the company at risk, including the receptionist’s role. During her redundancy consultation, alternative roles were discussed and she showed interest in a role as coordinator. A letter was sent to her requesting her CV and confirming her interest. However the reception tendered her resignation, citing discriminatory treatment.

In upholding her claim for race discrimination, the judge concluded that the hairstyle comment, even as a joke would not have been said to a white employee and that it had been made because the receptionist was black with an afro hairstyle and was therefore racial discrimination.

Businesses are liable for discrimination when it occurs in this way which is why it is extremely important to conduct training on discriminatory behaviour and to ensure that all employees are aware of what is unacceptable in terms of comments and treatment of colleagues.  121 HR Solutions can provide onsite training in discrimination and can be contacted at

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