IT worker takes Havant and South Downs College to employment tribunal over racial discrimination and unfair dismissal

Abdul Haitham outside the tribunal
Abdul Haitham outside the tribunal

A BLACK member of staff at a college said he was ‘ganged up on’ by white colleagues before he was given the boot from his job - leaving his life in ruins.

Abdul Haitham, 41, told an employment tribunal he was subjected to ‘continuous harassment and racial discrimination’ in his role as a second line IT engineer at Havant & South Downs College.

Mr Haitham, a black British-born Muslim, laid bare his agony at losing his job at the college, which he started in 1999.

He was dismissed in October 2017 after a catalogue of events which he told Southampton Tribunal Court proved he was ‘unfairly singled out’ compared to his white counterparts.

Mr Haitham, of Hayling Close, Gosport, is claiming for unfair dismissal, breach of contract, racial discrimination, harassment and victimisation.

He said: ‘I was subjected to continuous harassment and discrimination by middle managers which was not dealt with fairly by HR and senior managers who simply passed it off as “poor management” despite explicit evidence from white/non-Muslim witness showing I was the only one being treated less favourably by the same manager.’

Giving examples, the claimant said he was told he was not allowed to have his five-year-old son on the premises while other white members of staff were able to do so. ‘In effect the policy only applied to me,’ he said.

In June 2017, Mr Haitham said his long standing agreement with the college for him to miss lunch and finish one hour early while it was Ramadan was suddenly a bone of contention with his new IT manager David Turner. ‘I was told I can’t decide my own hours but for 18 years I had been allowed to work different hours during this period,’ he said.

The claimant also said he was told not to talk to women on the IT helpdesk because ‘it did not look professional’ as his working environment became ‘relentlessly intimidating and hostile’

Mr Haitham lodged a complaint against Sheena Elsmore, the IT help desk manager at the time, who no longer works at the college, over differential treatment where she would ‘backbite’ against the claimant and refuse him keys to the office - in contrast with other staff.

An increasing number of Mr Haitham’s roles and responsibilities were gradually removed while he was also subjected to public ‘dressing downs’ that left him ‘confused and hurt’, he told the tribunal.

A subsequent complaint against Ms Elsmore was not investigated, Mr Haitham said, with Mr Turner concluding she was ‘just having a laugh’.

The claimant said his anger was further compounded when, after a restructure, he was told he would have to report to Ms Elsmore - the ‘very manager I had complained of discrimination against me’.

Mr Haitham said: ‘In effect I had been demoted with the removal of duties. I felt bullied and disempowered.’

Things came to a head in June 2017 when Mr Haitham was told his job had been ‘dis-established’. ‘I was bullied out of the college and denied retrieving my possessions and told not to contact anyone who works there and banned from entry to the premises,’ he said.

‘I was then marched off the site. No explanation was given to me for my removal in this undignified manner. I was left in shock.’

Mr Haitham told the hearing he made a grievance against the college - where the hearing was ‘unfair and intimidating’.

Under the terms of his redundancy, Mr Haitham said he was not told about any suitable jobs with the college, only junior roles.

Mr Haitham, who now works for Portsmouth City Council in a zero hours role, described the impact on his life. ‘I can’t even function. My life has been thrown into turmoil. I’m about to be thrown out of my house. I suffer with anxiety and depression.’

He added: ‘If it was not for the college I would be in good physical and psychological health, in employment and my life would have purpose.’

In his statement to the tribunal, Michael Gaston, principal and chief executive of the college, said: ‘I could not find any evidence that the claimant was bullied or discriminated against. However, I did conclude there had been a deterioration in the relationship within the team perhaps because of poor examples of communication.’

(Proceeding)