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Unfair dismissal and discrimination for using offensive racial term

The employment tribunal found that an employee was unfairly dismissed and discriminated against for using offensive racial term during a training session.

The claimant was a manager at Lloyds Bank. He attended a race awareness training session and was asked how he should handle a situation where he had heard someone using language that might be offensive if not used by someone of an ethnic minority. He responded by saying “the most common example being the use of the ‘N’ word in the black community”. He had used the full word.

The claimant was dismissed for gross misconduct for the use of the offensive language.  He brought a claim of unfair dismissal and discrimination arising out of disability.

The tribunal upheld the claimant’s claim for unfair dismissal. The tribunal found that context was everything. The claimant did immediately apologise after he had said the word. He had not used the word as a term of abuse, but simply to ask how to deal with the use of unacceptable language. The Bank failed to conduct a reasonable investigation and it was found that the Bank did not have reasonable grounds for believing that the claimant’s actions amounted to gross misconduct.

The tribunal also upheld the claim of discrimination arising from disability. The claimant had dyslexia, and this led him to reformulate questions and burst things out before losing his train of thought, contributing to the way he expressed himself in the training session.

This is a useful reminder to employers to investigate matters properly and to consider if their decision to dismiss falls with the band of reasonable responses.