Ex-employee accused distributor of encouraging a culture of racist harassment
Exertis may have to pay £6.6 million to former employee Kieran Sidhu who has won a case against the Basingstoke IT and mobile distributor for racial discrimination, harassment, constructive dismissal, and breach of contract.
If successful it will be the biggest award ever granted by an Industrial Tribunal will dwarfing the current highest award of £4.7 million for a similar case against the Royal Bank of Scotland.
The case was heard in 2019 but the 50,475-word judgement was delayed due to the pandemic and released on May 19.
A Remedial Hearing is scheduled for July 21 to decide the award and will consider medical reports from Sidhu’s doctors, Exertis’ doctors and expert witnesses. A decision on the size of the payout will follow around two months later.
Sidhu’s lawyer, Lawrence Davies of Equal Justice Solicitors, said the case was probably one of the worst examples of constructive dismissal he had ever come across.
“It was extraordinary. It was ‘Lord Of The Flies’ level of group condemnation. Exertis’ only defence could be that they took all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination. That it happened shows they did not. In law, anything done in course of employment is considered to have been done by the employer with their permission,” said Davies.
At the hearing, the Tribunal considered more than 300 instances of harassment against Sidhu by his manager and co-workers. The five respondents named in the judgment are Exertis, Glynn Smith, Stuart Smith, John Cleary and Doug Spendlove. However, the Tribunal ruled it did not have jurisdiction to decide Sidhu’s claim against Spendlove because Sidhu had taken too long to formalise his complaint.
His £6.6 million claim is based on a medical assessment that his experience at Exertis has left him psychologically damaged and unable to work.
The claim includes future losses (£1,676,319), employer pension contributions (£97,025), unlawful deduction of wages (£5,574), failure to comply with ACAS Code of Practice (922,470), injury to feelings (£42,000), personal injury (£108,000), and special damages for future care and assistance (£605,400).
A 50,487-word judgment by Southampton Industrial Tribunal exposed a culture at Exertis of racial discrimination and sexual bullying at odds with the company’s much-publicised philosophy of diversity, inclusion and tolerance.
In a statement, Exertis said: “The employment tribunal decision relates to Exertis and a breach of the Equality Act 2010 within a specific area of the business. When the complaint was made four years ago, a full internal investigation took place resulting in appropriate disciplinary action.
“We fully respect the tribunal’s decision and take the findings extremely seriously. This was a unique case across a business of more than 1,800 employees. However, it was clear that certain behaviours fell significantly below the standards we expect. Our response and ongoing commitments to invest heavily in increasing awareness in relation to diversity will ensure that this should never happen again.
“The final tribunal judgement was only published on 19 May after which we immediately sought legal advice relating to the content of the judgement and can confirm that the two individuals who remained with the business have now left.”
(Full story in Mobile News magazine next week)