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Stop discrimination at ‘first hurdle’, race case victim tells trust leaders

Published on: 20 Jun 2023

A trust has been told to not “shut down” staff who raise concerns by a former employee whom a tribunal found was racially discriminated against.

Moorfields Eye Hospital Foundation Trust racially discriminated, victimised and harassed Samiriah Shaikh, who worked at the trust as an ophthalmic technician, according to a recent judgment.

Judges said Ms Shaikh was described as “aggressive” by her boss Peter Holm, and stereotyped by managers as a “loud ethnic female” after she and fellow colleagues raised allegations of racism in the promotion of in-house staff.

Mr Holm, who is listed as a chief ophthalmic and vision science practitioner at the trust, is said to have responded to staff members’ concerns by making jokes during a team meeting. It is unclear whether he is still at the trust.

He then moved her out of his department after she confronted him about how he planned to handle the issues raised.

Ms Shaikh, who represented herself during the case, told HSJ she wants MEHFT to “take accountability” for what has happened as the ordeal has “ruined” her career. She told HSJ she no longer works in the NHS.

She said: “I would like to see a different culture at MEHFT where everyone feels included, in which individuals feel confident raising issues without facing repercussions. Employees need to be empowered, not shut down.

“Raising issues such as racial discrimination isn’t easy as people are afraid of the aftermath. Why must ethnic minorities be punished for standing up for their rights? If Moorfields are willing to change its culture then they must adopt a transparent approach.

“Moorfields should put pathways in place to stop any future recurrences for race discrimination. One which supports [black and ethnic minority staff] and not target them.”

She added: “I want this case to be an eye opener, to show how we can change our policies and procedures so we can stop this when it comes to the first hurdle.”

“It should have been the first hurdle where they stopped the discrimination or racism and taken action against it.”

‘Not sophisticated’

Employment judge Sarah Keogh stated evidence strongly suggested Mr Holm had stereotyped Ms Shaikh as a “loud ethnic female”, and levelled a similar judgment at trust management. She said this was supported by him moving Ms Shaikh out of his department before describing her as “very aggressive” in email correspondence with two managers.

Mr Holm was described as “not a sophisticated manager” and “out of his depth” in the meeting, with Judge Keogh adding he “did not take well to allegations of discrimination being raised”.

She also criticised a subsequent meeting, in which a new department structure, retention and progression were discussed, as “wholly ineffective” because it did not address previously raised concerns.

The judgment said: “We find [MEHFT] did not take action or make any real attempt to understand what the issues were.

“Management was, by this point, so sensitive about allegations that discrimination had occurred that, rather than dealing with such allegations head-on, they did not touch on the issues at all.

“We conclude that a white colleague raising such concerns would not have been ignored in this manner and that [Ms Shaikh] was treated in this way because of her race and because of the false stereotype narrative that had been created.”

Judges also ruled Ms Shaikh was constructively dismissed after she indicated her intention to resign during a telephone call in December 2020. This was after being informed her behaviour had led to a manager suffering from increased stress.

According to the judgment, the tribunal had not seen evidence which suggested she had acted in a way that was inappropriate. However, they found her character was “repeatedly attacked” and therefore had a direct impact on her work.

A remedy hearing is set to be scheduled at a later date.

Following the judgement, MEHFT chief executive Martin Kuper said he was “disappointed and deeply sorry” that Ms Shaikh had experienced this.

He added: “I want to offer reassurance that this is not acceptable to our executive and board, and that we are committed to learning from the findings of this employment tribunal and taking actions to ensure our hospital is an equitable place to work.”

A trust spokesman approached for further comment, said they do not comment on individual employees.