Woman abused in WhatsApp messages wins harassment claim
A woman who found offensive remarks about her in a WhatsApp group used by work colleagues was the victim of harassment due to her sex, race and religious belief.
That was the decision of the Employment Tribunal in a case involving Ms Muna Abdi and Deltec International Courier Ltd.
Ms Abdi, who is black of Somalian background, worked for Deltec as an operations clerk.
On one occasion, there was a general discussion in the office involving the subject of white privilege. Abdi said this developed into an argument in which two of her colleagues told her that most crimes in England are carried out by black people.
Abdi then discovered an office WhatsApp group that contained several offensive remarks about her such as “f***ing immigrants” and comments such as someone should “shut this terrorist up” or “rip her headscarf off”.
The conversation contained emojis of women wearing a hijab.
Abdi complained to a more experience colleague involved in the conversation, but he did not take her seriously and did nothing to help.
She later found more derogatory remarks on WhatsApp and reported the matter to the company officially in an email.
The issue was taken up by Mr Cunningham, chief executive of Deltec International Courier at the time. He acknowledged that the WhatsApp discussion included derogatory and deeply unpleasant comments about Abdi.
Cunningham investigated the matter further, which led to one employee receiving a final warning and two others being dismissed.
He then apologised to Abdi and told her of the disciplinary action taken against those involved. Nevertheless, she resigned and brought a claim of harassment.
The Employment Tribunal ruled in her favour.
Judge Louise Skehan said the office environment was “chaotic and juvenile” and that “inappropriate language was commonplace”.
The WhatsApp discussion amounted to harassment because it was “unwanted conduct that had the effect of violating the claimant’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive environment for the claimant”.
Compensation will be decided at a separate hearing.
Please contact Sorcha Monaghan if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law.