Black NHS midwife who sued hospital for race discrimination after staff ‘joked’ they should ‘check their bags’ on her last day at work wins her claim
- Olukemi Akinmeji sued her employers for race discrimination and victimisation
- Tribunal heard she faced a ‘toxic’ work environment at William Harvey Hospital
- On her last day, the shift co-ordinator Kathy Carr told staff to ‘check their bags’
A black NHS midwife successfully sued her workplace for race discrimination after staff ‘joked’ they should ‘check their bags’ on her last day at the hospital.
Olukemi Akinmeji sued her former employers East Kent Hospitals University NHS Trust for race discrimination and victimisation after she finished working at William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, Kent in 2020.
An employment tribunal heard that Ms Akinmeji faced a ‘toxic’ working environment, in which she alleged her colleagues were ‘ganging up’ on her.
She began working at the hospital in March 2018. She told the tribunal in Ashford of several incidents at work where she claimed she was mistreated due to her being black.
After over a year of employment, Ms Akinmeji handed in her notice on December 9, 2019. She did not include an explanation.
The tribunal heard that on January 25 2020, Ms Akinmeji’s last day, shift co-ordinator Kathy Carr allegedly told staff: ‘It’s Kemi’s last day, everyone check your bags.’ It is alleged that she then repeated this in the hallway.
Olukemi Akinmeji sued her former employers East Kent Hospitals University NHS Trust for race discrimination and victimisation after she finished working at William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, Kent
Ms Carr later realised this ‘wasn’t appropriate in front of colleagues’ and claimed it was a ‘joke in bad taste’, the tribunal heard.
She also claimed she was embarrassed as she had only just found out Ms Akinmeji was leaving and wanted to say something ‘light-hearted’.
But Ms Akinmeji said: ‘I do not see what was funny in being portrayed as a thief in front of my colleagues, patients and family members’.
Ms Carr stated she believed the ‘trigger’ for the remark was a poster in the changing room she had put up beforehand in response to thefts. She also said she thought Ms Akinmeji wanted a ‘fuss’ made over her leaving and that she found her ‘difficult to communicate with’.
In an exit statement, Ms Akinmeji put in a complaint about the incident.
‘If the Trust have zero tolerance to racism then it should act appropriately,’ she said.
‘My complaint against Kathy Carr is however a formal complaint because she never was a friend nor joked with me.
‘Yes, I have had a few sarcastic remarks from her but I do not see what was funny in being portrayed as a thief in front of my colleagues, patients and family members.
‘Even if I overlook everything else, I do not intend to overlook being embarrassed so [publicly] with a false and baseless spiteful remark. The fact that [Kathy] Carr acts freely in such a manner goes without saying how she treats ethnic minorities.’
An employment tribunal heard that Ms Akinmeji faced a ‘toxic’ working environment at the hospital
The Trust replied: ‘Kathy has since attended unconscious bias training – as a result, she has again reflected on her comment and realises how inappropriate it was and insensitive to make such a comment, particularly in front of colleagues and she is sorry for this.
‘She has stated she will not do so again, and is now very much aware of the expectation of management in relation to her behaviour and the consequences.’
However, the tribunal heard Ms Carr never attended the training course.
The panel concluded that Ms Akinmeji was working in a ‘toxic and difficult’ environment in which she and her colleagues were shouted and sworn at.
Although it dismissed many of her racism claims, the tribunal did concluded that she had been discriminated against by the remark.
Employment Judge Anna Corrigan said: ‘The evidence shows that [Ms Akinmeji] was a subject of discussion by the group of midwives concerned, which had generated a shared negative attitude towards [her]and some hostility which she picked up on in their behaviour towards her.
‘We find they thereby ‘ganged up’ against [her] and this suggests there was bullying of [her] by this group of midwives.’
In regard to Ms Carr’s comment, she added: ‘This was an extremely offensive comment in the context of a black colleague leaving the workplace and the knowledge that there had been actual thefts from staff.
‘The implication is clearly that colleagues should take care of their things as [Ms Akinmeji] might be going to steal from colleagues on her last day.’
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