In Mr Subramaniam Ahillan v Mid and South Essex University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust an NHS trust has been found guilty of race discrimination towards a whistleblower who was treated unequally to a co-worker over health and safety rules.
Tribunal Judge David Brannan concluded that the reason Subramaniam Ahillan was suspended from Mid and South Essex NHS Trust for failing to properly adhere to rules around brazing medical gas pipes – and not a co-worker who failed on similar grounds – was due to his Sri Lankan heritage.
Additionally, the court also heard his line manager Darren Harris, who was said to have been angered over his financial irregularity whistleblowing claims, resigned from the trust while under investigation for being a member of a WhatsApp group that contained racist material.
However, Mr Ahillan’s claims he suffered detrimental treatment for making a protected disclosure over his complaints that there had been overcharging on invoices, were dismissed.
Nonetheless, the tribunal heard Mr Ahillan, an engineering team leader, and colleague Jack Isbell, building and plumbing services supervisor, were treated in a “materially different way” despite both failing to properly adhere to the policy around the hot works permit (HWP).
The judgement said: “Once it was clear that Mr Isbell’s permit was not closed on April 8, 2020, and therefore alarms could have been disabled overnight, the respondent should have, if treating Mr Isbell and the claimant the same, suspended and investigated Mr Isbell as well.
“We find Mr Isbell to be a valuable evidential comparator. Mr Harris was involved in a WhatsApp group that contained (based on respondent oral evidence, albeit no examples were provided) racist material. He was investigated and resigned while being investigated. He was the claimant’s line manager. This raises issues about his motivations as well as giving context to the workplace.”
A spokesperson for Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Race discrimination is something the Trust takes extremely seriously, and we are reassured that the tribunal did not make a finding that any person within the Trust was racist.
“Out of 35 allegations made only one was upheld, with the others being dismissed. This finding was made on an inference and was not found to be discrimination caused by any one specific individual. However, we are taking learning on board from this case and improving awareness around race discrimination.”
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