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Somali NHS scientist wins £60,000 after colleagues gave her offensive nickname

The Mirror
ByChiara Fiorillo
Tuesday October 10, 2023

A senior NHS scientist has been awarded almost £60,000 in compensation after her colleagues replaced her username with an offensive nickname on a work spreadsheet.

An employment tribunal heard Ubah Jama was considered a “troublemaker” after complaining about a fellow biochemist throwing a test tube in her direction. Her alleged ill-treatment culminated in the “offensive” insertion of the phrase “paininarse” on a shared Microsoft Excel document which could be seen by colleagues across two hospitals, the tribunal heard.

The panel concluded that when the NHS worker complained about the offensive nickname, her boss failed to have it removed. Ms Jama, who is of Somalian origin, claimed that over a two-year period, she was a victim of numerous acts of racial discrimination while working for Barking Havering & Redbridge University Hospital NHS Trust in East London.

After the tribunal ruled she was “marginalised and excluded because of her race”, Ms Jama was awarded £58,632 in compensation for the “public humiliation”. The tribunal, held in East London, heard Ms Jama had been one of four senior biochemists within the Clinical Biochemistry department at Queen’s Hospital, Romford, London since February 2019.

In February the following year, Ms Jama was left “upset” when colleague Tatyana Zadorozny lost her temper and threw a plastic tube containing a fluid sample at the bench she and two black colleagues were sitting on. Ms Zadorozny, who is white Canadian, had become exasperated at a lack of help she received from a black junior locum and “tossed” it towards them, the tribunal heard, prompting Ms Jama to make a health and safety complaint.

She also complained that her scientist colleague Claire Beck had been put forward for a three-day admin training course and she was not and that – unlike her white counterparts – she had been told to work while off sick with suspected Covid. The tribunal heard that in January 2021, Ms Jama checked a work file to find “paininarse” written in place of her name – something visible to colleagues at both Queen’s Hospital and King George Hospital.

The panel heard that she complained, attaching screenshots which showed that if a cursor was run over certain cells in the spreadsheet the rude username popped up. In a meeting the following day, Ms Beck admitted she had been responsible but explained the tag had automatically transferred into the document from her home computer.

She claimed it was a “personal in-joke about the performance of the computer”. Giving evidence, Ms Beck accepted her conduct had been “unprofessional”, hence why she removed the phrase from her own documents. However, she failed to remove it from Ms Jama’s. Her explanation she had “forgotten” in an “oversight” was ruled “implausible” by the tribunal.

Concluding that Ms Beck had victimised her colleague, Employment Judge David Massarella said: “We are satisfied that the original insertion of the term ‘paininarse’ into the documents was innocent. However, we considered that the position was different in relation to the failure to remove it from Ms Jama’s documents.

“We have concluded that this crossed the threshold into harassment: it had the effect of creating an offensive, indeed humiliating, environment for Ms Jama, given these documents were visible to colleagues. There was differential treatment: (Ms Beck) removed the tag from all her own documents but not from Ms Jama’s. Her apology was half-hearted.”

Regarding her justification, the judge continued: “Ms Beck must have realised it would cause offence, given the history of tensions within the department. We disbelieve her explanation and conclude that she left it in deliberately.”

Ms Jama’s boss, Iris Valera-Larios, was also found to have racially harassed her by failing to take steps to remove the “paininarse” tag. Many of Ms Jama’s other claims of discrimination were dismissed by the tribunal.

However, she won her claims of discrimination, harassment, victimisation and unfair treatment of whistleblowing regarding the “sample tossing” incident, the denial of training and the Covid working complaint. She had received “less favourable treatment” than her white counterparts, the tribunal found.

The panel suggested Ms Jama’s treatment was because she was considered a “troublemaker” by bosses, given her previous health and safety disclosures. On several occasions, the tribunal said, her boss’s behaviour towards had been “materially influenced by race”.

Judge Massarella said: “The Trust, through the conduct of [Ms Jama’s bosses] created an environment in which Ms Jama was increasingly marginalised and excluded because of her race and then penalised for complaining about that treatment.” Of the “paininarse” incident, the panel deciding compensation said: “We accept (Ms Jama’s) evidence that, when she discovered it, she was deeply upset because it was on a system which was generally accessible, she experienced it as a kind of public humiliation.”

As part of her overall compensation, Ms Jama was awarded £29,000 for injury to feelings. The panel said: “The length of time over which these incidents occurred, and their cumulative effect on Ms Jama brings this within the category of the most serious cases. This was, or more accurately, evolved into a campaign of criticising, sidelining and diminishing Ms Jama over a period of some fourteen months.

“When she turned to senior management for support, she met with further adverse treatment. This insidious campaign was deeply upsetting to Ms Jama: it seriously affected her confidence within the workplace; it undermined her authority within the team; and it deeply affected her ability to trust the organisation in which she was working.”

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