Secretary resigned after MD said she 'wouldn't hire black person'

A secretary who resigned after her managing director said she wouldn’t employ someone because she was black has won her claim of unfair dismissal.

Caroline Hobbs worked for Avon Care Homes from November 2015 until she resigned without notice in April 2018.

This followed an employment search for a new care home manager in which the managing director admitted she would not be hiring one candidate because of the colour of her skin.

Part of Hobbs’ role was to assist regional manager Julia Rea with recruiting. One applicant was a black woman named Paulette Mills. She impressed Rea in an interview and was progressed to the next stage of the process, a meeting with managing director Christina Bila.

Rea spoke highly of Mills’ potential in a telephone conversation with Bila.

However, in the following days Bila discovered that Mills was black, and in a conversation with Hobbs, she expressed her annoyance that Rea had not told her, and that she wouldn’t be giving her the job.

Rea and Hobbs hoped to persuade Bila that Mills was an ideal candidate. Rea knew she would not be in the office when Bila returned from holiday, so she prepared a script for Hobbs to read to her.

It included: “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 Paulette, 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, and it is making the employment process that I am using is [sic] getting the company in difficulties with the law regarding equality and racism.”

Hobbs searched online for equality and discrimination and became concerned she was taking part in an unlawful recruitment process.

She read the script to Bila on her return but was told “to have black people in charge of a home like that is not going to work... I don’t have to explain to anyone”.

Bila agreed to go ahead and meet Mills but had no intention of hiring her.

Hobbs left the office and emailed her resignation letter to Bila from home. She wrote: “I am unable to continue working for a company that has illegal working practices with regard 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.”

The Employment Tribunal ruled that Hobbs had been unfairly dismissed given the circumstances of her resignation.

Judge Christa Christensen said the racially charged actions of Avon Care Homes’ managing director, Christina Bila, “utterly undermined” Hobbs’ ability to trust her employer.

A remedy hearing will take place to decide the levels of compensation owed to Hobbs.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this case, or any aspect of employment law.