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NHS scientists win race discrimination claim after being labelled ‘paininarse’ on Excel spreadsheet

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead Burton

In Ms P. Mntonintshi and Ms U. Jama v Barking Havering & Redbridge University Hospital NHS Trust Ubah Jama and Princess Mntonintshi worked in the biochemistry department at the hospital, run by Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, where the tribunal found they were victimised over a period of two years.

Ms Jama, a senior in the field, was labelled as ‘paininarse’ on an official Excel sheet in January 2021 that was visible to colleagues across two hospitals, the tribunal heard.

Employment Judge Massarella considered the insertion of the tag as an innocent mistake by a co-worker, but not the failure to remove it from Ms Jama’s documents.

Judge Massarella said: “We have concluded that this crossed the threshold into harassment: it had the effect of creating an offensive, indeed humiliating, environment for Ms Jama, given these documents were visible to colleagues.”

A senior staff member was also held responsible for racially harassing her by not taking steps to resolve the complaint.

Further, in February 2020, a tube containing some potentially dangerous pleural fluid sample was thrown in a rage by a colleague on the wall close to Ms Jama and other black employees, the tribunal heard.

Employment Judge Massarella called it a “serious act of misconduct” and said in the judgement: “It ought to have been the subject of an incident report and an immediate disciplinary investigation.”

Ms Jama was also denied a training opportunity in favour of a colleague in 2020, the report said, and was asked to work when she was on sick leave with suspected Covid symptoms.

Judge Massarella noted that another white staff member who was also ill like Ms Jama was not written to.

Ms Mntonintshi had her ability as a biochemist questioned by colleagues, the tribunal heard, who asked how she was able to remember her training after a break of a year and a half. She had worked in the field for more than ten years.

The claimants resorted to crowdfunding their legal costs to take their case to the employment tribunal in August 2022.

Ms Mntonintshi said on the crowdfunding page they had “no choice” but to take the case to an employment tribunal.

She added: “We both want to continue to do the jobs we love in the NHS without this racism and prejudice.

“Hoping for a culture of equality where the priority and focus is health, safety and great patient care.”

Matthew Trainer, chief executive of the trust, apologised to the claimants in a statement and said: “The discrimination they experienced was unacceptable.

“We failed to act appropriately when they raised concerns, and we need to do better.”

The hospital is also said to be working on a programme of cultural change within the biochemistry department.

The trust is ordered to pay compensation to the claimants, the amount for which will be decided in another hearing.

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