Havant & South Downs College principal admits ‘bad management’ in race claim tribunal

Abdul Haitham
Abdul Haitham

A PRINCIPAL whose college is facing accusations of racial discrimination from a former black employee admitted there had been ‘bad management’ at an employment tribunal.  

Havant & South Downs College principal Michael Gaston denied IT engineer Abdul Haitham, 41, had been the victim of harassment and racial discrimination which had ultimately resulted in him losing his job.

Mr Haitham, a black British born Muslim, was dismissed from his £27,700 annual post in October 2017 having been in the job since 1999. He said he was ‘unfairly singled out’ compared to his white counterparts following a catalogue of events.

Mr Haitham, of Hayling Close, Gosport, is claiming for unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal, racial discrimination, harassment and victimisation at Southampton Tribunal Court.

The claimant accused the college of ‘having policies just for me’ after 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.

After 18 years of finishing work one hour early during Ramadan he was suddenly told this was not allowed by 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 with IT team leader Simon Allinson and refuse him keys to the office - in contrast with other staff.

Mr Haitham’s claims of racial discrimination were rejected by Mr Gaston, giving evidence before the tribunal, but he did confess there were widespread failures with the management of the IT department.

Under cross examination from Mr Haitham’s sister Afida, who is representing her brother as the claimant cannot afford a lawyer, she asked: ‘With regard to workplace bullying you say you were satisfied that what happened with claimant was due to poor management?’

Mr Gaston responded: ‘That’s correct.’

The principal said he did not believe that Mr Haitham was the only person who was the subject of bad management. ‘I don’t believe he was the only one,’ he said. ‘I believe Sheena and Simon were badly managed by David Turner.’

He continued: ‘I said there needed to be training and development of the IT department. There was a need for there to be a stronger development of leadership in place.’

Responding to accusations of discrimination, he said: ‘I don’t believe there was clear evidence of discrimination.’

Mr Gaston also rejected claims the grievance and dismissal process was poorly handled.

But chair of the bench Michael Emerton let rip at the college’s grievance and investigatory process – which had taken place in a hotel lobby. He said: ‘The college’s guidance does not make sense. I don’t know how anyone is supposed to make sense of it.

‘If I don’t understand (whether the meeting was a grievance or investigatory hearing) then it’s not surprising the management team don’t know what they are doing.

‘I’m not sure why a large college that has been around for so long can’t come up with a clear grievance policy.’

(Proceeding)