St Patrick’s Day: five race discrimination claims by Irish workers

Race discrimination against Irish workers. St Patrick's Day parade in London, 2014. London News Pictures/REX
St Patrick's Day parade in London, 2014. London News Pictures/REX

St Patrick’s Day is a good time to remind employers that Irish employees can suffer race discrimination in the workplace, particularly when “banter” gets out of hand. The most likely claim is for racial harassment if a colleague or manager makes inappropriate or stereotypical remarks about an Irish worker. Stephen Simpson rounds up race discrimination cases brought in the UK by claimants from Ireland.

Manager repeatedly likened Irish worker to “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding”

Harper v Housing 21 (employment tribunal)

This successful race discrimination claim by an Irish worker is a prime example of why employers are unlikely to be able to argue in an employment tribunal that offensive comments about a protected characteristic were “just banter”.

The claimant’s line manager was alleged to have made repeated comments about her “funny accent”, and was alleged to have described her as an “Irish gypsy”. The airing of TV programme “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” prompted the claimant’s line manager to repeatedly liken her to the women on the programme, laugh at her and say “I saw you last night on TV”. The claimant resigned.

The employment tribunal upheld her direct race discrimination, racial harassment and constructive dismissal claims. The tribunal found that the employer’s investigation into the claimant’s complaints was inadequate. It was particularly unimpressed with the line manager’s defence during the investigation that her comments were merely “banter”. Read full case report…


“Paddy” insults were race discrimination

McAuley v Auto Alloys Foundry Ltd and Taylor (industrial tribunal)

In this extreme example of race discrimination against an Irish person, the claimant was subjected to repeated anti-Irish remarks by his line manager and other colleagues. He sought medical attention for stress, and was then dismissed because he did not “fit in”.


Black pub worker told St Patrick’s Day hat made him “look like a pimp”

Brown v Young & Co’s Brewery plc (industrial tribunal)

An employee does not have to be Irish to be discriminated against on St Patrick’s Day.

The employment tribunal in this case found that a manager harassed a black pub worker when he told him that he “looked like a pimp” when he was wearing a St Patrick’s Day hat.

The tribunal accepted that, while this comment was made as a one-off joke, the manager may have subconsciously stereotyped black people, with the cliché in popular culture associating the word “pimp” with black men.

Read full case report…

The remarks included:

  • “typical Irish”, which was said to him when he made a mistake;
  • “how could a Paddy do that?”; and
  • “typical thick Paddy”.

The industrial tribunal concluded that the remarks caused the claimant stress, and he was dismissed “principally because he was an Irishman who would not take Irish jokes lying down”. It awarded him compensation of almost £6,000. Read full case report…

Irish claimant suffered race discrimination during Red Nose Day

Neylan v Royal Berkshire Fire Authority (employment tribunal)

An isolated incident of racism can be enough to lead to a successful claim of race discrimination.

In this case, the employment tribunal found that an Irish employee was discriminated against as a result of a one-off incident during Red Nose Day. As part of a list of “sins” to raise money for Red Nose Day, “being Irish, £1″ was written on the whiteboard in the employer’s control room.

The employment tribunal awarded £3,000 for injury to feelings. The tribunal commented: “While some may take the view that the claimant was oversensitive within the context of the day and the spirit of charitable fundraising, she was the only Irish person working in the control room and the comment can only have applied to her and directly arose because of her race.” Read full case report…


Lecturer from Ireland awarded £28,000 for race discrimination

Bryans v Northumberland College of Arts & Technology (employment tribunal)

In this very serious example of race discrimination, the tribunal described the Irish claimant’s treatment as “a particularly appalling case of discrimination upon discrimination”.

The claimant, a lecturer, successfully claimed race discrimination after complaints of racial abuse by a colleague were not dealt with. The tribunal also found that he was discriminated against by a failure to shortlist him for a college appointment.

The claimant was awarded £28,000, including £15,000 for injury to feelings and £5,000 for aggravated damages. The tribunal made wide-ranging recommendations to the employer, including that the lecturer be shortlisted by the college for any appropriate post within the next two years. Read full case report…


Relationship to ethnic minority not proof in race discrimination claim of general absence of prejudice against Irish people

Robson v Commissioners of Inland Revenue and others (EAT)

In this case, the unusual argument was put forward that the fact that the alleged perpetrators of racial harassment against an Irish employee were related by marriage to members of particular races or ethnic groups was evidence that they were less likely to have indulged in racist abuse.

An Irish woman complained to an industrial tribunal that she had been subjected to race and sex discrimination by colleagues. The tribunal’s judgment rejecting her claims mentioned that the colleagues “were related by marriage to people from ethnic minorities”.

The EAT found that this had not been the main reason for the rejection of the claims. The main reason was that the tribunal had said that there was no corroborative evidence of the alleged incidents, and that the claimant had not raised the harassment in question when she made her initial written complaint to the employer. Read full case report…

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