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Support worker loses racial discrimination claim after director jokes that an African child ‘probably eats [rats] back home’

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

In the case of Ms M Acheampong v Supporting Young Futures Limited Ms Acheampong was a support worker for a private limited company which provides housing and outreach support to young people referred to it by the London Boroughs of Waltham Forest, Islington, Reading, Newham, Lewisham, Greenwich and Havering. Some of those young people are asylum seekers from a range of backgrounds. Peter Brown is the Director and principal shareholder.

Mr Brown joked that an African child “probably eats [rats] back home”. He made the comment to a junior colleague after being sent a photo of a rodent the child killed with a broom in their accommodation. The junior colleague involved, Ms Acheampong, took the company to an employment tribunal, alleging racial discrimination.

In his ruling, Judge Andrew Allen QC wrote: “Mr Brown accepted that he had made the comment and stated that it was not related to any particular nationality but meant to be a joke.”

The judge added that Acheampong replied to the joke with a laughing emoji but accepted that he was texting a senior staff member and had been privately offended.

During the hearing, Brown admitted he did make the joke and the judge found this counted as harassment related to race but ruled that too much time had passed since the incident.

Dispute resolution service ACAS advises that an employment claim must be made within “three months less one day” from the date of the incident complained about.

Company owner Peter Brown told the tribunal he has “about 36” employees and viewed Acheampong as someone who created a “disruptive atmosphere”.

The judge accepted Brown’s description, which he described as “detailed and came across as his truthful assessment”.

He noted in detail the manager’s efforts to resolve the dispute through formal mediation, which were rejected by Acheampong.

Acheampong’s claims of race discrimination, harassment and victimisation were dismissed by the judge following the three-day hearing.

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