09:05, November 23 80 0 theguardian.com

2018-11-23 09:05:13
Former NHS trust manager awarded £1m for race discrimination

An NHS trust has been ordered to pay £1m in damages to a former employee after a tribunal found he was unfairly dismissed and faced racial discrimination.

Richard Hastings, who was an IT manager with King’s College hospital NHS foundation trust, in south London, was accused of assault after a dispute with a contractor and delivery van driver in the hospital’s car park in 2015.

The tribunal found that the trust sacked him after an investigation that ignored his allegations that he had been subjected to racist abuse. Its disciplinary process was also said to have consistently painted Hastings as “the aggressor”, based on preconceptions of him as a black male, although CCTV footage showed this not to be the case. The white contractors were seen as “the victims” during the process.

The judgment stated: “The Tribunal has found as a fact that during the investigatory hearing the claimant [Hastings] provided evidence of racial abuse and of foul and offensive language being directed at him, but this was not investigated. We conclude that by failing to investigate this the claimant was treated less favourably because of race.”

The incident began when Hastings, who was in a loading bay waiting for a parking space to become free, was sworn at by a white van driver, the tribunal heard. When Hastings approached the van, which contained three men, he said the driver made a number of racially charged comments during a “war of words” in which he also swore. In what he believed to be a reference to his skin colour, Hastings said the contractor told him: “Careful it doesn’t come off”.

The infrastructure manager said that when he gave the driver his name he reacted with disbelief, as if he could not have such an “English sounding name”.

When the contractor found out he was a manager at the hospital, Hastings said he exclaimed: “Look! They’ll let anything happen here”, in what he perceived to be another racially charged comment.

Hastings gave evidence that at one point the driver placed his hand on his forearm and he reacted by lifting his arm to extricate himself and in doing so made contact with the contractor’s face.

Hastings called the hospital’s security office for help during the confrontation but nobody came to his aid.

After the incident, Hastings told colleagues what had happened and with their encouragement he reported it. But after an allegation was made that he assaulted the driver and CCTV appeared to show Hastings pushing him, he was suspended.

After an investigation, which the tribunal found was tainted by “unconscious bias”, Hastings was dismissed on the grounds of gross misconduct.

The tribunal said his evidence, as a black man of Caribbean origin, was treated with unwarranted distrust and disbelief. By contrast the tribunal found him to be an honest witness, while identifying numerous inconsistencies and flaws in the opposing evidence.

Opportunities to collate more evidence to support Hastings’ claims of innocence, including talking to potential witnesses, were repeatedly missed, the tribunal found.

Louise Brown of Excello Law, which represented Hastings, said: “Richard was the victim of an institution whose desire for an easy solution resulted in a total disregard for the wellbeing of an employee of nearly 20 years. The tribunal found that the trust’s initial investigation into Mr Hastings’ suspension was ‘fundamentally flawed’ and served only to support the organisation’s bias towards our client.

“The substantial damages awarded by the tribunal reflect the significant loss of Mr Hastings’ pension rights following his dismissal.”

A spokesperson for the trust said: “The trust has apologised to Mr Hastings and we would like to extend that apology once again. King’s is proud to be a major multicultural employer serving one of the most diverse communities in the UK and has implemented a number of changes to improve the support given to its staff.”

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