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Secretary resigns because of discrimination

A judge has ruled that a secretary who was asked to be complicit in discriminatory practises was constructively and unfairly dismissed.

Mrs Hobbs worked at Avon Care Homes as a secretary and assisted Mrs Bila the managing director and Mrs Rea with recruitment. Mrs Hobbs left her job after Mrs Bila stated that she did not intend to give a black woman a job in the care home. She felt that the residents ‘did not like being looked after by black people.’

The ruling of the employment tribunal in Bristol found that Mrs Hobbs had resigned because of a breach of her trust and confidence in the manager.

Following up on a referral which Avon Care Homes received from an executive search firm, Miss Mills applied for a position. On April 3rd Miss Mills attended the interview which was carried out by Mrs Hobbs and Mrs Rea. Mrs Bila was not present as she was on holiday.

After the interview Mrs Rea commented that she was impressed with the applicant but both ladies were concerned as to what Mrs Bila’s reaction would be because Miss Mills was a black lady. Both Mrs Hobbs and Mrs Rea were aware of Mrs Bila’s prejudices about black people in the care industry.

Mrs Hobbs admitted that she was worried about telling Mrs Bila that the candidate was black. Mrs Bila returned to work on 8th April. Mrs Rea did not have time to tell her personally but she sent an email which stated  “I know you think that your residents have in the past not liked being cared for by black people and I know that you are reluctant to employ Miss Mills and it has affected your decision but I am really struggling with this decision. I know you are not racist but this opinion by the residents is unfortunately influencing you.”

Mrs Hobbs later spoke to Mrs Bila on the phone and was told that she did not want to employ Miss Mills because she was black. Mrs Hobbs commented that what Mrs Bila was doing was illegal.

Transcripts of the conversation were shown to the tribunal and indicated that Mrs Bila remarked that having a black person in charge of the care home would not work. She agreed to interview Miss Mills, to say that she didn’t like her and then not offer her the job.

Mrs Hobbs was asked to set up the second interview with Miss Mills despite the predetermined decision made by Mrs Bila.

At this point Mrs Hobbs knew that she could no longer work for Avon Care Homes. She was reluctant to set up the second interview knowing what the outcome would be. To the tribunal she stated that she was upset and deeply offended at being asked to be complicit in such work practises.

 Mrs Hobbs left the office later that day and resigned with immediate effect. She did this via email the following day.

In her resignation email Mrs Hobbs wrote “I am unable to continue working for a company that has illegal working practice with regards to racial and colour prejudice held by the managing director. I am unwilling to lie to recruitment agencies as that makes me complicit with these illegal practices. Because of the issues regarding my reasons for having to leave I will be unable to work my notice as I believe this would be inappropriate knowing the office dynamic and your need to deal with the matters that I have brought up in this letter.”

After she had resigned, Mrs Hobbs called Miss Mills to tell her about the second interview and the predetermined decision not to hire her because of the colour of her skin. She also told Miss Mills that this was the reason for her resignation. Miss Mills stated that she would not attend the second interview.

Avon Care Homes argued that Mrs Hobbs should not have resigned prematurely and should have first raised a grievance. They also accused Mrs Hobbs of forming a premeditated plan to make a claim against them for financial gain. The judge ruled that this accusation was inherently unlikely.

Unemployment Judge Christensen ruled that the actions of Mrs Bila had completely undermined the claimant’s ability to trust her. Mrs Hobbs could not consider remaining at Avon Care Homes where she was being made to be complicit in practises which were illegal. The judge referred to the Equality Act for race discrimination.

The judge concluded that Mrs Hobbs’ continued employment was untenable because of the attitude adopted by Mrs Bila and she would never be happy working for her because of this.

Compensation is to be decided at a second hearing.

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