Allegations of discrimination by former fine company dismissed
12 April, 2022 12:00 am
3 Min Read
The judge suggested ex-employee raised the complaint “as a strategic step” By Local Democracy Reporter Josh Mellor
A judge has dismissed claims by an alleged whistleblower that the borough’s former enforcement company told staff to target ethnic minorities.
Kingdom LA, the contractor hired to issue fines in Waltham Forest from 2017 to 2021, was accused of discriminatory practices by a sacked employee at a tribunal hearing in February.
Ex-employee Gary Forrester alleged the company unfairly dismissed him in October 2020 after he complained about being pressured to target minorities with fines, as they were viewed as less likely to appeal.
However, Judge Benjimin Burgher dismissed as “incredible” Gary’s claims, suggesting he made the complaint “as a strategic step” while being investigated over inappropriate WhatsApp messages.
In a written ruling, Judge Burgher found Kingdom LA were right to dismiss Gary for gross misconduct after he posted racist and transphobic comments on a staff WhatsApp group.
He said: “On 3 October 2020 the claimant proceeded to joke about the heavily accented response of an East Asian elderly man who was video recorded remonstrating against an unfair and improperly imposed [fine] against him.
“The claimant uploaded the whole video recording of the interaction and engaged in reprehensible mimicry of the East Asian man.
“This was not the conduct of a fearful manager reluctantly carrying out an allegedly racially discriminatory instruction.
“The tribunal find that there was some very offensive homophobic content posted and the claimant’s contention in the disciplinary meeting that descriptive references to ‘gay’ in messages was referring to happy as incredible.”
The judge heard “confused and unclear” evidence from a colleague who was dismissed for misconduct at the same time as Gary and said a second colleague, who had worded an “indentical” witness statement to the first, failed to attend court.
He noted that no one else in the “multicultural team” had made an allegation about an “alleged racist instruction” to target minorities.
Although Gary did not have legal representation during the hearing, his legal arguments were put forward by his partner Klaudija Green, a former national director at Kingdom.
She told the tribunal: “Mr Forrester’s perception was that he must act on orders and instruct his team to issue fines to ethnic minorities.
“[His line manager’s] behaviour created an intimidating, hostile and degrading environment for the claimant, he believed if he did not comply he would lose his job during the pandemic.”
Giving evidence by video link to the East London Employment Tribunal, solutions services director John Roberts said the allegations did not “stack up” as issuing a fine where there is “no penalty” would mean there was “nothing to pay”.
He added: “I’ve never instructed any staff member to pick or choose on what they do, we run a transparent system that customers can review.
“Our staff are paid a living wage and we take a percentage of any paid [fine]. The process has to be run fairly and transparently.
“If there’s no penalty there’s no business so we end up with a high wage and [the fined person has] nothing to pay, so the ethnic minority statement does not work as we would have no money to pay staff.”
He also denied employees are given daily targets of fines to issue, but added “there was an expectation to go out and do the job at hand”.
The Kingdom manager claimed he didn’t know Forrester was whistleblowing and said he dealt with all concerns raised by employees “in the same process”.