Worker subjected to abuse on WhatsApp awarded £25,000

A woman who stumbled across a workplace WhatsApp group featuring racially abusive remarks about her has been awarded nearly £25,000 for unlawful harassment on the grounds of sex, race and religious belief. 

The case involved Mrs Muna Abdi who worked as an operations clerk for Deltec in Hounslow. She was originally from Somalia and moved to the UK as a child.

In August 2018, Abdi, who wears a hijab, got involved in a discussion with work colleagues about white privilege. 

Abdi described it as a “vile discussion” in which two colleagues told her that most crimes in England are committed by black people.

Later, Abdi discovered a workplace WhatApp group chat about her, referring to her as a terrorist and a post box. One message said she should be made to suffer. Abdi found the messages offensive and threatening.

She complained to her line manager, Simon Hocking, who was part of the WhatsApp group. She felt he did not take the matter seriously, and simply told her that it was a case of “he said, she said”.

She also recorded a discussion with Hocking in which he said that, although he hated racism, “all that’s going to happen is it's going to be you versus them three, and it’s going to go around in circles”.

She later found that the WhatsApp group name had been changed to “ALHAMDULLAH” and featured a picture of a black hijab. There were several racist messages about her. 

Abdi sent the screenshots of the message to a senior member of staff who passed them on to company’s chief executive, Mr Cunningham. He described the chat as having “extremely inappropriate and foul language and some derogatory and deeply unpleasant comments”.

Cunningham moved Abdi to a different department, pending a company investigation.

This led to Hocking being issued a final written warning, and two others involved in the chat group being dismissed.

Abdi said that some members of the WhatsApp group came into her new department and

stared at her “with smirking faces”.

She resigned and brought a claim of unlawful harassment on the grounds of sex, race and religious belief. 

The Employment Tribunal found in her favour. It held that that the discussion violated her dignity and created an “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive environment”. Moving her to a different department was not an adequate solution.

Employment judge Skehan said that Abdi was the “sole black, hijab-wearing member of staff within the group and the unlawful harassment was felt whether intentional or not, as an expression of hate for her religion, ethnic origin and gender”.

Abdi was awarded £24,945 for injury to her feelings and for her financial losses.

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

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