WORKFORCE: An employment tribunal has awarded a former manager at Central Manchester University Hospitals Foundation Trust nearly £1m damages for racial discrimination and unfair dismissal.
Elliot Browne, former divisional director for clinical scientific services at the foundation, was awarded £933,115, after the tribunal found that the trust had subjected him to discrimination from March 2007 until his dismissal the following May.
On 5 March 2007, trust director of patient services Gill Heaton wrote to Mr Browne warning him that he was placing his “continued employment as a divisional director in jeopardy” through his handling of an overspend in the anaesthesia department.
Ms Heaton, also chief nurse at the foundation, had “formed this view very quickly, within two to three weeks of her forming her first concern that the claimant’s performance may warrant formal action”, the tribunal judgement stated.
She went on to repeatedly warn him that his job was at risk, even before a formal “capability procedure” had been started, creating an “intimidating environment” for Mr Browne, it said.
“She told the claimant that his job was at risk, and continued to do so, with complete disregard for the trust’s capability procedure, with little regard to the effect her intimidatory comments were having on the claimant,” it added.
By July, when Mr Browne presented a grievance alleging race discrimination, he was signed off work with stress. He had told Ms Heaton he was having suicidal thoughts, and an email written by him on 6 July 2007 “confirms he was struggling with his health and had been driven to the point of despair”, the judgement noted.
In response to the grievance, the foundation’s human resources director, Derek Welsh, wrote back indicating “that he thought negotiations for a compromise agreement were still in process, but the grievance had changed that”, it adds. “Rather than instigate the suspended formal capability procedure Mr Welsh advised the claimant that there would be an investigation and a hearing to determine ‘whether the trust has the necessary trust and confidence in you’.”
He was later suspended, and subsequently dismissed.
The judgement concluded that Central Manchester “in its conduct from March 2007 onwards, commencing with the conduct of Gill Heaton and concluding in dismissal, treated [Mr Browne] less favourably on the grounds of race”.
It found “that the fact that there have been significant overspends in the division, for a number of months, does not by itself provoke Gill Heaton to the steps she took with [Mr Browne],” and that the foundation failed to properly investigate Mr Browne’s grievances.
It also noted there were “clear statistics showing a pattern, year on year, of black employees being more likely to be subject to dismissal than white employees”. There was “no evidence” the trust had taken these “extremely worrying statistics” seriously.
In a statement issued by his union, Unite, following the compensation award, Mr Browne said: “It is scandalous that this kind of behaviour and culture should exist in an organisation whose prime purpose is to care for others.”
Unite regional officer Keith Hutson said: “Hopefully this will act as a catalyst for his former employer to face up to their obligations in tackling the culture of institutionalised racism that they seem happy to endorse and that is underpinned by a cavalier attitude in their management style.”
He added: “The systematic intimidation and bullying of a single individual, the like I have never seen in my career as a union regional officer, was breathtaking and callous.”
The foundation trust has appealed against the decision. A spokeswoman for the foundation said: “As an organisation we take issues of any discrimination seriously. We strongly believe that discrimination did not feature in this individual’s case.
“We appealed the original decision, which has been heard and we are awaiting the outcome. As such we feel that it is inappropriate for us to comment further at this stage.”
Information released to HSJ
9 Jan 2011