'Offensive racist remark' was harassment, tribunal decides

A company boss harassed an office manager by making a "highly offensive racist remark", an employment tribunal ruled yesterday.

David Wood asked in the presence of Valerie Moxam, "Why is it that white girls like black men?" then laughed, the panel found.

Ms Moxam was later fired by text message by Mr Wood, managing director of landscaping contractor Visible Changes, though that was not racially motivated, the tribunal in Watford said.

Other claims of discrimination, including against the company's health and safety co-ordinator Susan Ward, failed.

Ms Moxam, 42, of Northolt, west London, said after the hearing: "The past 18 months have been extremely challenging and stressful, but I felt so strongly that I wouldn't give up.

"What I have learned from this victory is that it is important for each one of us to take a stand and fight for respect and dignity. It is our civil liberty. People must be held accountable for their actions in the workplace.

"I encourage anyone who is feeling wronged in any way at work to fight back."

Employment judge John Hobson said of Mr Wood's remark about white girls liking black men, which the panel found had been said: "This was a highly offensive racist remark in the presence of the claimant and amounted to harassment."

He added: "The remark goes to the core of his attitude and his complete failure to observe any of his own procedures and equal opportunities policies."

Claims against the company, of South Harrow, north-west London, and Mr Wood of race discrimination by harassment were upheld.

However, the tribunal ruled that the sacking by text message, when Ms Moxam was at the death bed of a terminally ill aunt, was not racial discrimination.

It heard from Mr Wood that he panicked after receiving an email from his accountant telling him to cut any employee who was not needed.

Mr Hobson said of the dismissal by text: "Whilst this was callous, insensitive and nothing short of outrageous, these are not the tests. The claimant does not have 12 months' employment and has no protection against unfair dismissal."

The panel believed Mr Wood would have acted the same way with a white comparator, he said.

It was understood that the parties reached a financial settlement after the findings.