A secretary who resigned because she was asked to be complicit in discriminatory recruitment practices was constructively and unfairly dismissed, a judge has ruled.
Mrs Hobbs left her job at Avon Care Homes in April 2019 after managing director Mrs Bila said she would not give a black woman a job as a care home manager because she believed residents did not like being cared for by black people.
Discrimination in recruitment
An employment tribunal in Bristol found that Avon Care Homes had breached the trust and confidence the claimant had in her employer, which led to her resignation.
Hobbs was employed as a secretary at the care provider and assisted Bila and regional manager Mrs Rea with recruitment.
Following a referral from an executive search firm, job candidate Mrs Mills was interviewed for the position of home manager on 3 April. She was interviewed by Rea, with the claimant present to take notes. Bila was on holiday.
Rea was impressed with how Mills performed in the interview, but the claimant and Rea were both concerned about how Bila would react to Mills being black because of her prejudices about black people working in the care sector.
The claimant was worried about how she would inform Bila about the candidate’s ethnicity when she returned to work on 8 April. Rea was not able to speak to Bila about the matter on the morning she came back to work, so she wrote the claimant a script to help her. It said: “I know you think that your residents have in the past not liked being cared for by black people and I know that you are reluctant to employ [Mills] and it has affected your decision but I am really struggling with this decision. I know you are not racist but this opinion by the residents is unfortunately influencing you.”
When Mrs Hobbs telephoned Bila, Bila she did not want to employ Mills because she was black. The claimant told Bila that what she was proposing was illegal and notes from the conversation, which were seen by the tribunal, indicated that Bila expressed the view that having black people in charge of a care home “is not going to work” and that she would interview her and “then say I don’t like her”.
Hobbs was instructed to set up an interview with Mills, despite Bila’s predetermined decision.
She realised she could no longer work for Avon Care Homes and did not want to set up the interview knowing what would happen. She told the tribunal that she was deeply offended and upset at being asked to be complicit in discriminatory work practices.
She left the office later that day and resigned with immediate effect by email the following day, which stated: “I am unable to continue working for a company that has illegal working practice with regard to racial and colour prejudice held by the managing director. I am unwilling to lie to recruitment agencies as that makes me complicit with these illegal practices. Because of the issues regarding my reasons for having to leave I will be unable to work my notice as I believe this would be inappropriate knowing the office dynamic and your need to deal with the matters that I have brought up in this letter.”
After sending her resignation, Hobbs telephoned Mills to inform her that she would not be offered the position because of the colour of her skin and told her she had resigned because of this. Mills said she would not attend the second interview.
At the employment tribunal hearing, Avon Care Homes argued that Hobbs had made a “premeditated plan” to bring a claim against the company for financial gain, which the judge considered inherently unlikely.
It also argued that Hobbs had resigned prematurely and should have raised a grievance before resigning.
However, employment judge Christensen said: “The actions of Mrs Bila on Monday 8 April utterly undermined the claimant’s ability to trust her employer; the claimant could not tolerate continuing to be employed on the basis that she was being instructed in terms to be complicit in recruitment practices that there were unlawful by reference to the provisions in the Equality Act relating to race discrimination.
“Given the serious nature of the unlawful recruitment practices that the claimant was being asked to administer for Mrs Bila she was in no sense under a responsibility to raise a grievance before resigning. The claimant’s continued employment was simply untenable after the attitude adopted by Mrs Bila in her conversation with the claimant on Monday 8 April.”
Compensation will be discussed in a hearing at a later date.