Today we look at a case where The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) rejects an appeal by an NHS equality boss who told her co-worker that he was “everything she despised in a white manager”.

The Facts

Dr Vivienne Lyfar-Cissé was employed by Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust as their Associate Director of Transformation, having originally joined in 1985 as a clinical biochemist.

The purpose of her role was to further racial equality in the Trust, after repeated concerns had been raised about the treatment of BAME staff over several years. This position however was seemingly undermined, when she told a manager of hers that he was “everything she despised in a white manager”.

The tribunal also revealed that she had bullied another colleague because of her sexuality and had breached that colleague’s confidentiality by interfering in the grievance process.

Following these incidents, and having reportedly become “confrontational and smug” at work, Dr Lyfar-Cissé was dismissed from her employment. She subsequently put in a claim for unfair dismissal.

Tribunal Decision

A dismissal shall be unfair if it can be established that it was not because of one of several “potentially fair reasons”, or, if it was for a potentially fair reason, the decision to dismiss was unreasonable having regard to all the circumstances.

Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust argued that Dr Lyfar-Cissé was dismissed for “some other substantial reason” (a potentially fair reason) and that the dismissal was reasonable, given the seriousness of her comments and her position in the Trust. The tribunal agreed, rejecting her claim for unfair dismissal.

EAT Decision

Dr Lyfar-Cissé appealed to the EAT, arguing that one of the judges on the panel had been bias and therefore the tribunal’s decision was procedurally unfair. The EAT denied her appeal, stating that a fair minded and informed observer would not see a real possibility of bias, nor was there actual unfairness in the conduct of the case.

Takeaway Point

This judgement makes clear that racial equality can work both ways. Racialised language in any sense is best kept far away from the workplace, and an incorporation of another’s skin colour into a remark about their work practices is bound to end in disaster.