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Employment tribunal awards £400K for injury to feelings

Recently an award of £400K was awarded to a former employee at the Department for Work and Pensions. This was made following age and race discrimination which caused the claimant ongoing distress.

How was this staggering amount worked out?

When employment tribunals make awards for injury to feelings they look at several factors. These are all unrelated to financial loss.

Tribunals look for proof for the degree of distress, hurt or humiliation that the employee has suffered because of the discriminatory treatment they have received.

The staggering amount awarded to Ms Giwa-Amu attracted plenty of attention because the amount was so high. Ms Giwa-Amu won her case against the Department for Works and Pensions for race and age discrimination, along with injury to her feelings.

Amounts awarded for injury of feelings are assessed using the ‘Vento’ system. This guidance places the amount awarded into the following three categories.

  • Lower Vento band: this is for minor acts of discrimination where there are one-off incidents and no recurring incidents.
  • Middle Vento band: this range is for more serious incidents which are not as high as those that merit the top band.
  • Top Vento band: this is for cases where there is an ongoing issue of discriminatory harassment.

In exceptional circumstances such as the case with Ms Giwa-Amu, the band can be exceeded.

The Vento bands

  • Lower band - £900 to £9,000
  • Middle band - £9,000 to £27,000
  • Upper band - £27,000 to £45,000

What did the tribunal consider?

The tribunal awarded Ms Giwa-Amu an award from the highest Vento band for several reasons.

Ms Giwa-Amu, of Nigerian-Welsh origins, began working for the DWP on an 18-month fixed-term contract. At the time she was hired she was 50 years old and the only trainee over the age of 50.

Her induction began on 13th Feb 2017 and was supposed to last until 17th March 2017. Between these dates several things happened which caused Ms Giwa-Amu to be signed off work with stress related illnesses and depression. After being unable to return to work she was dismissed in October 2017.

In June 2017 Ms Giwa-Amu submitted her claim to the employment tribunal for age and race discrimination. Her last paycheck was withheld by the DWP while she was living on just £55 per week. The DWP demanded a repayment of £2,000 from Ms Giwa-Amu in January 2018.

Out of the 19 complaints lodged by Ms Giwa-Amu, the tribunal upheld 12 for direct discrimination or harassment due to age and race. The DWP, they ruled, had created a hostile environment deliberately.

There were several incidents which the tribunal ruled as insulting and deliberately humiliating such as not being allowed in the same room as her colleagues during the last five days of training.

The DWP’s delay in paying her final wages rubbed salt into the wounds and put Ms Giwa-Amu under severe pressure and stress when they demanded that she pay back £2,000 although the amount she owed was only £738.27.

In determining the amount of damages, the tribunal ruled that the impact of discrimination was proportionate to the amount Ms Giwa-Amu received.

She had felt entirely rejected and ridiculed, as well as isolated from the training group. This was compounded by the late payment of her final salary.

The conclusion of the tribunal was that Ms Giwa-Amu had not been affected by a single individual’s actions, rather she had felt discriminated against by several people’s actions towards her.

Additionally, when she reported her concerns about being bullied, her confidence was breached by the managers discussing the issues with other staff members. This constituted payment from the top Vento band.

The judge commented that this case should serve as a warning to employers. Tribunals will use the upper Vento bands if they are justified.

The tribunal concluded that employers need clear policies and procedures in place so that they can handle bullying and harassment complaints. Staff members should be clearly aware of what constituted unacceptable behaviour.

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