A Liverpudlian bus driver told to ‘calm down, calm down’ by an HR manager was not discriminated against and his case was struck out by the Scottish employment tribunal for having no reasonable prospect of success.
The claimant, Mr Ryan, had said he felt “extremely offended, insulted and believes he was discriminated against and ridiculed” when the HR manager appeared to reference comedian Harry Enfield’s 1990s television characters, The Scousers.
Ryan began work for R Robertson & Son, a bus and coach operator in Shetland, in August 2020. On 29 January 2021 he accompanied a colleague to a grievance hearing as a witness.
The hearing had been due to be held in person but, because the managing director had been asked to self-isolate for Covid reasons, it switched to a video meeting.
While there was some dispute between the parties over what happened next, the change of plan was met with disapproval. Ryan claimed the HR manager said: “You boys need to go and calm down, calm down”.
Discrimination within the UK
He claimed that this was direct discrimination as he was “born and grew up” in Liverpool and that she had mocked his accent. The grievance hearing was aborted.
Ryan said he was so stressed by the comment that he had to self-certify sick and did not work his shift that day or the next. His case is that to have driven that day would have put himself and others at risk.
On 1 February, Ryan received a letter saying his employment had been terminated due to inappropriate conduct and two days’ unauthorised absence.
The Scouser characters were permed, moustached, shell-suited, permanently combative brothers from Liverpool. It was maintained that these stereotypes were very specific to Liverpool and not a wider class of English people. It was noted that Ryan’s colleague was also English but not offended. Only the claimant who was Liverpudlian was offended.
The judge said the discrimination claim was wholly reliant on the use of the words “calm down, calm down”. The judge did not consider that, simply because Liverpool is in England, the claimant was being mocked on account of his national origin.
The judgment added: “It is an essential requirement in this race discrimination complaint under the Equality Act that the claimant was treated less favourably (in this case being mocked) on account of his national origin. The comment may well have been unprofessional or uncalled for but it is not in my view discriminatory because there was no mocking of the claimant on account of his national origin, namely being English.
“Thus there is no protected characteristic upon which he can make a claim. I consider that the discrimination claim is one of the obvious cases which would allow strike out on the basis that it has no reasonable prospect of success.”