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NHS scientist awarded £58,000 after being named ‘Paininarse’ on spreadsheet

The biochemist won a claim for racial harassment

Ubah Jama, a biochemist for the NHS, won a tribunal claim for racial discrimination after a colleague tagged her a ‘Paininarse’ on a work spreadsheet that could be seen by colleagues from two hospitals.

Jama, who is of Somali origin, told the tribunal she had been subjected to numerous acts of racial discrimination while working in the biochemistry department at Queen’s Hospital, Romford.

Alleged incidents included a colleague throwing a plastic tube containing a fluid sample at the bench she and two black colleagues were sitting on, prompting Jama to make a health and safety complaint.

Jama also said she had been told to work while off sick with suspected Covid, unlike her white colleagues.

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After finding her name replaced with ‘Paininarse’ in the spreadsheet a colleague admitted she had been responsible but said the tag had been a nickname for the computer.

However, the tribunal ruled that failing to remove the tag created a humiliating environment for Jama considering other colleagues could see the document.

The tribunal found Jama had received less favourable treatment than her white counterparts and that her boss’s behaviour towards her had been materially influenced by race.

Employment judge David Massarella said: “The trust [...] created an environment in which Ms Jama was increasingly marginalised and excluded because of her race and then penalised for complaining about that treatment.”

Another claimant from the same department, black South African Princess Mntonintshi, also succeeded in claims of racial discrimination, harassment and victimisation.

Aisling Foley, employment solicitor at law firm SAS Daniels, said employers should put clear anti-harassment and bullying policies in place to avoid similar claims.

She told HR magazine: “Employees need to know what kind of behaviour will not be tolerated. They also need to understand how to raise concerns and how this will then be dealt with by their employer. 

“The main thing is to ensure an open line of communication. Promoting conversation and reducing the stigma will allow employees to feel comfortable enough to raise any concerns and should then result in issues being caught more quickly.”

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Matthew Trainer, the chief executive of Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “I’d like to offer our sincere apologies to Princess and Ubah for their experiences at our trust. The discrimination they experienced was unacceptable. We failed to act appropriately when they raised concerns, and we need to do better.”

Foley added that employers must act quickly to avoid the situation described in this case, which saw Jama experience multiple incidents over a two-year period.

She said: “The main take away for employers can be found in the trust’s own words after the judgement was handed down: the respondent said they failed to act appropriately when concerns were raised.

“That is really the key; employers need to act appropriately as soon as a complaint is first mentioned. Do not leave things to snowball and become worse over time.”

Laura Binnie, legal director at BDB Pitmans, said the case shows how a toxic culture can prevent an early resolution of complaints

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “It is clear from the judgment that the culture within the hospitals run by the trust was problematic. The claimants were marginalised and excluded because of their race, and penalised for complaining about this.

“Employers should aim to prevent such complaints from arising in the first place where possible. This case highlights that the culture of a workplace is vitally important, and that diversity and inclusion should be prevalent at all levels within the organisation, and seen to be led from the top.”