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Black teaching assistant wins £17,000 discrimination claim after being denied work from home request despite white colleague being allowed to

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

In the case of Ms A. Balogun v Cubitt Town Infants School Ms Balogun started working as a Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) 1:1 Teaching Assistant for a child with an Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP) from 6 January 2020 until 28 January 2021. An East London Employment Tribunal heard Ms Balogun, who is black British, is a single mother of two looking after a boy and girl, both school-aged.

Her son was diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing treatment at the time in January 2021, when the UK was plunged into its third lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. She was not allowed to work from home despite her son being clinically vulnerable and was put on a rota which meant she came into contact with pupils and colleagues at school – even though she was promised it was a “non-contact role”.

A female assistant, named only as ‘LC’, carried out a similar role to Ms Balogun and was permitted to work from home from January 2021 as her mother was a vulnerable person and was shielding. An hour after questioning why a white, less qualified teaching assistant was allowed to work from home during that time to protect a vulnerable family member, Balogun was sacked from the school.

The tribunal concluded: “Little thought was taken by the school prior to the termination of Ms Balogun’s services of how she could be accommodated working from home. This was in stark contrast to LC, who was allowed to work from home, presumably with the necessary software to do so. Ms Balogun had a good work record and there were no performance or disciplinary issues with her.

“The tribunal was not satisfied that the explanation provided by the school at the hearing was reasonable as to why she could not work from home especially given her good work record, superior qualifications and adaptable experience.”

The panel said ‘we were not satisfied’ by the school’s explanation of her sacking when the only difference was race. Ms Balogun, who worked at the school for a year, won claims of race discrimination and victimisation. She lost an unfair dismissal claim as she was not directly employed by the school, but through an agency.

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