Hackney Council worker tells employment tribunal she was victim of racist, sexist and disability discrimination

Hackney Service Centre. Picture: Google

Hackney Service Centre. Picture: Google - Credit: Archant

A Hackney Council worker claims she was the victim of racist discrimination at her call centre after a manager said to her while she rolled a cigarette: “I hope you are not smoking marijuana in work time.”

The town hall is accused of discrimination relating to sex, race and disability by Natasha Johnson at an employment tribunal, which started on Monday.

The customer service advisor and Unite union rep, who has been suspended since November, also says she was bullied and harassed by senior staff at the Hackney Service Centre.

Natasha, who has learning disabilities and dyslexia, claims one manager would make unsolicited comments on her appearance in front of other staff, and would do so to other black women as well.

Hackney refutes the claims and under cross examination today Natasha was told the marijuana comment, in 2015, was “nothing more than a feeble attempt to be funny”.

“At worst it was a poor joke,” said the council’s lawyer Catriona MacLaren.

“It was not just the marijuana comment,” replied Natasha. “He made comments about my hair, what I’ve got on, my shoes, all these types of things. I didn’t see it as just a one-off comment, I felt like he had a stereotype about black people.”

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Miss MacLaren replied: “His comment was not race-specific, was it? He didn’t say anything that linked it to your race or anybody else’s race. The use of cannabis is widespread.”

Natasha again insisted the manager did not make similar remarks about white colleagues and said she felt harassed. She raised the issue with HR but no action was taken.

“It is not reasonable to have felt harassed by a remark as benign and anodyne as that,” Miss MacLaren concluded.

Natasha, who included the examples in a formal grievance more than a year later, was also told by Miss MacLaren: “You can’t have been so very upset about them [the comments] if you didn’t say anything for over a year.”

On another occasion, Natasha claims a manager told all of the staff: “If you haven’t got childcare you shouldn’t be working here.” The comment has been listed under a complaint of sexism but Miss MacLaren said the female manager who made the comment was simply implying it was a demanding job.

Natasha says she complained about her treatment in September 2016 only to be told she would be subject to her first disciplinary investigation days later. The issue was eventually resolved and she returned to work.

She says she was not given specific details for months about why she was suspended in November 2017. Her hearing took place in September and she is awaiting the results.

Hackney Council will present its case next week before the tribunal finishes on Friday.