A Labour MP’s former aide who claimed she was marginalised and isolated after she made a whistleblowing complaint has won her claim for unfair dismissal at an employment tribunal.
Ms E Cohen, who worked for Birmingham Perry Barr MP Khalid Mahmood from 2003 to 2021, also claimed she was discriminated against and harassed because of her race, religion or belief, but this was dismissed by the tribunal panel.
In August 2019, Cohen raised concerns about suspected behaviour in the MP’s office that breached parliamentary standards. The behaviour included alleged misuse of parliamentary stationery to challenge a DVLA enforcement action. This resulted in the claimant receiving an “abusive” email.
In October 2019 she made a formal complaint about the lack of office procedure following the email exchange.
The MP was re-elected at the general election in December 2019. On 2 January 2020, Cohen sent him a WhatsApp message complaining that she had not heard from him since he was re-elected.
That month, she attended a meeting in which an anonymous informant made serious allegations about sexual exploitation, bullying and blackmail. The allegations were not challenged by the respondent at the tribunal, but the judgment noted that this did not mean the MP accepted the allegations were true.
Further informants came forward with examples of other alleged criminal activity being undertaken by a woman employed by Mahmood’s office. Cohen contacted the police and informed Mahmood.
Cohen told the tribunal that Mahmood “went ballistic and accused me of lying. He accused me of making more trouble for [the woman] because I was jealous. He said he would sack me because he had enough of my lies and attacks against [the woman]”.
He asked her to compile her concerns about the woman into a formal document so he could work out how to deal with them. The police investigation concluded in March 2020, as there was no criminal case to progress following a withdrawal of the alleged victims.
In April 2020, Cohen again complained about a lack of communication from the respondent.
In July 2020, she complained that the staff member she had formerly complained about had made anti-semitic remarks in a Facebook post. In a separate email she accused Mahmood of being increasingly anti-semitic. The claimant is Jewish.
The pair spent a Sunday afternoon “duelling” over email in October 2020. Mahmood forwarded emails from 2020 in which Cohen called him a “first class idiot”.
Transcripts provided to the tribunal showed that Cohen had nicknamed Mahmood “catfish” – a term that suggests somebody uses misleading images to represent themselves online.
Mahmood told the tribunal that Cohen would copy people into her emails, including Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, in an attempt to intimidate him.
In November 2020 she was given a formal warning for non-compliance with her duties. The claimant responded that the constant attacks were motivated by anti-semitism and should be reported to the police as a hate crime.
Later that month Mahmood’s father-in-law died. Cohen sent what the judgment called a “crass” and “insensitive” email to him upon hearing the news.
The claimant was subject to disciplinary proceedings in January 2021. She was dismissed later that month in an email from Mahmood that stated: “You have repeatedly disrespected me, calling me names and copying in additional people to emails sent from you to me in order to intimidate me, make me feel discomforted, and to damage my reputation. I believe your actions have potentially brought me into disrepute and your actions have made me feel harassed and bullied”.
Cohen’s appeal against the dismissal was unsuccessful.
The tribunal found that while three out of the five allegations listed by Mahmood were “ample reasonable grounds for belief in misconduct”, the way her dismissal had been carried out was “outside of the range of reasonable responses”.
The judgment in Ms E Cohen v Mr K Mahmood MP says: “The finding of the tribunal is that the isolation and marginalisation experienced by the claimant from January 2020 onwards was more than trivially because of her having made a protected disclosure”.
However, it noted that “many of the communications sent by the claimant were abusive and unprofessional which exacerbated what was already a difficult relationship”. Mahmood and Cohen were previously romantically involved.
The tribunal found Cohen had not established that the decision to dismiss her related to her race, religion or belief.
A two-day hearing to discuss compensation has been scheduled in September.
Mahmood’s office has been contacted for a response. In a statement given to the Guardian, Mahmood said he was pleased with a judgment “that the principal reason that the claimant was dismissed was her conduct”. He also pointed to the dismissal of claims that the sacking was related to race, religion or belief.
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