Irish worker was racially harassed when boss mocked his accent

The Employment Tribunal has ruled that an Irishman was racially harassed and victimised when his bossed danced "like a leprechaun" in front of him and mocked his accent. 

The case involved Jonathan Kelly, who worked in the warehouse at the Oriental superstore Hoo Hing in Romford. 

When a warehouse colleague was nearly hit by some heavy items that fell after being stored incorrectly, Kelly spoke to his manager Michael Montgomery.  

Kelly said the items "could have done some damage to the poor girl".  

He spoke quickly, and Montgomery responded by imitating him and mocking his speech. The manager bobbed his head and moved his shoulders from side to side. 

Montgomery put on a “mockery of an Irish accent” and said: “Well maybe if you slowed down I might be able to understand what it is you’re trying to say.”  

Kelly was deeply offended by Montgomery’s behaviour and found it “revolting”. 

He complained about the incident within the company but was made to wait in a room all day before a grievance meeting that lasted just 18 minutes. 

Montgomery denied the claims and said Kelly was being aggressive. 

Kelly then brought a claim for racial discrimination and victimisation. 

Montgomery told the Employment Tribunal that he was using humour to diffuse the situation. 

He added that he was born in Antrim, Northern Ireland and that he was using his family’s accent rather than mocking Kelly. 

However, the tribunal ruled in favour of Kelly. 

Judge David Massarella said: “The type of humour Mr Montgomery chose to employ was of the most crass and insensitive kind. 

“Mr Kelly was not merely upset by the conduct - he was deeply offended by it. We are satisfied that he felt that his dignity had been violated. We think he was genuinely outraged by the incident. 

“It would be difficult to argue that mocking somebody by adopting a stereotypical accent and set of gestures was anything other than inherently discriminatory. We have no hesitation in finding that it was. 

“We reject Mr Montgomery's explanation that he was dropping into his own original accent, because the accent he adopted was not a Northern Irish accent, it was a mock southern Irish accent.

“The Claimant (Kelly) confirmed that the bobbing and moving of Mr Montgomery’s head and shoulders... was a mocking impersonation of a stereotypical Irish figure.” 

A remedy hearing will take place at a later date to decide compensation. 

Please contact us for more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law.

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