A woman has been awarded nearly £10,000 in compensation after a paralegal offended a colleague by saying ‘all Chinese run chip shops’.
An employment tribunal heard Sherlando Sutherland mention her grandmother was Chinese and paralegal David Bridge then shocked her by asking: “Does she own a chip shop, all Chinese own chip shops?”
The hearing was told Mr Bridge had a ‘tendency to make inappropriate comments’ and the ‘offensive’ remark left Miss Sutherland feeling ‘upset and embarrassed’.
She said he later boasted that ‘someone had tried to get him into trouble but it backfired and he did not even get a slap on the wrist’.
Miss Sutherland has now successfully sued for harassment in the workplace.
The employment tribunal heard she began working as an administrative assistant in the conveyancing department of Bristol-based Watkins Solicitors in 2018.
The same year, Mr Bridge – who heard the panel was friends with partner and Miss Sutherland’s manager, Angela Dunlop – joined the firm as a paralegal.
He was described as ‘chatty’ and ‘loud’ and the tribunal heard that if he said anything inappropriate or offensive, he would simply say ‘I don’t care, go tell HR’.
He made the comment in February 2019, after Miss Sutherland mentioned her grandmother’s heritage.
Although she was upset, she did not want to make a formal complaint. When managing partner Beverley Watkins heard about it she was ‘horrified’ and told Mrs Dunlop to make it clear to Mr Bridge that it was ‘unacceptable and if it happened again, it would be extremely serious’.
Despite Mrs Dunlop saying Mr Bridge understood it was serious and he had received an appropriate warning, he later told Miss Sutherland that he did not even get a ‘slap on the wrist’.
The panel found: “It was more likely, taking into account the reaction of Mr Bridge after the discussion, that he was simply told about the allegation and not to do it again.
“We did not accept that the seriousness nor the potential disciplinary consequences were impressed upon him.”
In May 2019, Miss Sutherland complained about being unhappy in her team, mentioning incidents of racial comments and banter ‘being taken too far’.
Mr Bridge left the company in October 2019. Miss Sutherland, who is black, was furloughed in March 2020. She later alleged that she had been ‘bullied’ and ‘victimised’ for two years by Mrs Dunlop, which she said started when Mr Bridge joined the firm.
After making a complaint, which she felt was not taken ‘seriously’, she resigned in July 2020. During a subsequent grievance meeting, the company acknowledged Mr Bridge’s comments were ‘wholly inappropriate’ but concluded she had not been treated unfairly by Mrs Dunlop.
She then went to the employment tribunal – headed by Employment Judge James Bax – which found she was harassed by Mr Bridge’s comment and concluded: “We accepted that Miss Sutherland found it upsetting, offensive and embarrassing.
“When the conduct was brought to Mr Bridge’s attention he was dismissive of it and we accepted that further enhanced her feelings.”
She unsuccessfully claimed that she had been furloughed due to her race and sex, while other claims for constructive unfair dismissal, direct discrimination, victimization and harassment also failed.
Miss Sutherland has been awarded £9,491.50.
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