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Repeatedly misnaming employee is race harassment, tribunal rules

A sales director misnamed a sales manager four times, despite being corrected

A British Indian bathroom salesman was harassed by a sales director who referred to him by the wrong name four times, a tribunal has ruled.

Viveak Taneja was awarded £9,329.23 for injury to feelings as a result of race harassment.

The tribunal heard that his name had a specific meaning in his Hindu culture that led him to be particularly proud of it.

This case highlights that repeatedly calling someone by an incorrect name can be classed as racial harassment, said Claire Wilson, legal director at Doyle Clayton.

She told HR magazine: “Calling someone by an incorrect name may seem trivial or could be classed as a genuine mistake.

“But what this case highlights is that repeatedly or deliberately calling someone by an incorrect name can expose an employer to potential racial harassment claims.

“As Viveak Taneja has a name that is linked to his race, by repeatedly misnaming him the tribunal found this constitutes unwanted conduct related to race that violated his dignity.”

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Taneja was employed as an area sales manager for London by Phoenix Whirlpools in June 2021.

In March 2022, Dana Davies was hired as sales director. Taneja and Davies scheduled to spend time together on 21 and 22 March 2022 so that Davies could understand Taneja's capabilities and what support he might need.

Taneja was to collect Davies from King’s Cross at 8.45am so that they could travel to his appointments together by car.

But on the day before (20 March), Taneja warned Davies that he had forgotten his wife was on holiday so he would have to do the school run before coming to meet him. Despite this, Taneja said he would arrive at King's Cross at 8.45am.

On 21 March, Taneja arrived late, at around 9.05am. The tribunal found that the two men did not like each other upon meeting. 

Taneja told the tribunal that during the journey, the atmosphere in the car was toxic. Davies was irritated that Taneja had been later to pick him up than he indicated.

Davies questioned Taneja about elements of his job that Taneja had not prepared for but suggested he would instead show Davies evidence on his laptop when he was no longer driving. Taneja told the tribunal he felt Davies had asked him these questions to assert his authority. 

Davies told Taneja he was a “good bullshit detector”. Taneja turned up the music to steer away from the conversation. 

In the car, Davies got Taneja’s first name wrong on two separate occasions and wrongly referred to him by the first name Vikesh. Taneja corrected him both times that his name was Viveak, but Davies did not apologise. The tribunal noted that Davies has dyslexia, which could cause him to have trouble remembering names, but he did not tell Taneja this at the time.

Taneja suggested they stop at McDonalds to discuss his work and have a coffee. He told the tribunal that he was upset and needed a break from Davies to “reset”. 

At McDonalds, Davies misnamed Taneja twice more. After the third time, Taneja became upset and angry and packed his bags to leave. He said Davies had not listened when he corrected him previously and if he didn’t make the effort to pronounce his name correctly then he would make no effort with him.

As Taneja walked away he called Davies an “idiot” and a “racist”. He told Davies that their time together was over and asked him to remove his cases from the car.

While Davies collected his belongings, he blocked the rear of the car so Taneja was unable to get in. Davies told Taneja that if he were to drive away: “You’re finished; you’re terminated.” Taneja drove away regardless.

After he left, Taneja called his chief operating officer to ask whether he was still in employment, who told him to send his account via email. Davies also sent his account, which the COO accepted as true. Taneja was dismissed, without further investigation, that day.

Taneja claimed he had been unfairly dismissed, discriminated against on the basis of his race and harassed. The tribunal ruled out that he was unfairly dismissed, as he had been employed for less than two years. It also noted that Davies would have questioned other sales managers in a similar way, as it was an aspect of his “particular style of management”.

However the tribunal found Davies had violated Taneja’s dignity by repeatedly misnaming him, which created an atmosphere that was “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive”. 

“We considered that it was related to the claimant’s race, as the name which Mr Davies used is one which has direct connotation with race,” Employment Judge Cowen ruled.

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Danielle Ayres, employment partner at Primas Law, commented that this case shows that race discrimination did not have to be intentional to be considered unlawful.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “One such aspect of race discrimination, which is highlighted in this case, is that the treatment or conduct does not have to be intentional to be considered unlawful. 

“Whilst the respondent maintained that Davies suffered from dyslexia which affected his ability to remember or pronounce names, the tribunal held that the action of misnaming Taneja was harassment as it was unwanted behaviour that had the effect of violating his dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive environment.”

Ayres added that employers should offer training to ensure all employees are treated with respect.

She continued: “Treating everyone with respect, regardless of their values and beliefs, is extremely important in promoting a positive culture within the workplace.

“Businesses should ensure that all of their managers have equality and diversity training, and that the managers follow any policy that the organisation has in place, setting the standard for other members of staff. 

“They should also make sure that the staff that report to them are aware of the levels of treatment and behaviour expected and how to show and encourage respect for others whilst at work.”