Black NHS midwife who sued hospital for racial discrimination after staff ‘joked’ about ‘checking their bags’ on her last day of work wins her claim
- Olukemi Akinmeji sued her employers for racial discrimination and victimization
- Tribunal heard she faced a “toxic” work environment at William Harvey Hospital
- On her last day, shift coordinator Kathy Carr told staff to ‘check their bags’
A black NHS midwife successfully sued her workplace for racial discrimination after staff ‘joked’ on her last day at the hospital that they should ‘check their bags’.
Olukemi Akinmeji sued her former employers East Kent Hospitals University NHS Trust for racial discrimination and victimization after she finished working at William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, Kent in 2020.
An employment tribunal heard Ms Akinmeji faced a “toxic” work environment, claiming that her colleagues “conspired” against her.
She started working at the hospital in March 2018. She told the Ashford tribunal about several incidents at work where she claimed she had been assaulted because she was black.
After more than a year of service, Ms. Akinmeji submitted her resignation on December 9, 2019. She has not added any explanation.
The tribunal heard that on January 25, 2020, Ms Akinmeji’s last day, shift coordinator Kathy Carr reportedly told staff, “It’s Kemi’s last day, everyone check your bags.” She reportedly then repeated this in the hallway.
Olukemi Akinmeji sued her former employers East Kent Hospitals University NHS Trust for racial discrimination and victimization after she finished working at William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, Kent
Ms Carr later realized this was ‘not appropriate in front of colleagues’ and claimed it was a ‘joke in bad taste’, the tribunal heard.
She also claimed she was embarrassed because she had just found out that Ms. Akinmeji was leaving and wanted to say something “light-hearted.”
But Ms. Akinmeji said, “I don’t see what’s funny about being portrayed as a thief in front of my colleagues, patients and relatives.”
Ms Carr stated that she believed the ‘trigger’ for the comment was a poster in the dressing room she had put up beforehand in response to thefts. She also said she thought Ms Akinmeji wanted to make a “fuss” about her departure and found her “difficult to communicate with”.
In an exit statement, Ms. Akinmeji filed a complaint about the incident.
“If the Trust has zero tolerance for racism then it needs to act appropriately,” she said.
“However, my complaint against Kathy Carr is a formal complaint because she has never been a friend nor has she joked with me.
“Yes, I’ve had a few sarcastic remarks from her, but I don’t see what was funny about being portrayed as a thief in front of my colleagues, patients, and relatives.
“Even if I overlook everything else, I don’t intend to overlook embarrassing them (publicly) with a false and unwarranted snide remark. That (Kathy) Carr acts so freely speaks for itself how she deals with ethnic minorities.’
An employment tribunal heard that Ms Akinmeji had to deal with a “toxic” work environment at the hospital
The Trust replied: ‘Kathy has since undergone unconscious bias training – as a result she has rethought her comment and realizes how inappropriate and insensitive it was to make such a comment, especially in front of colleagues, and she’s sorry.
“She has indicated that she will not do this again and is now very aware of management’s expectations regarding her behavior and the consequences.”
However, the tribunal heard that Ms Carr never attended the training.
The panel concluded that Ms. Akinmeji worked in a “toxic and difficult” environment where she and her colleagues were berated and verbally abused.
While it rejected many of her claims of racism, the tribunal did conclude that she had been discriminated against by the remark.
Labor Judge Anna Corrigan said: ‘The evidence shows that (Ms Akinmeji) was a subject of discussion by the group of midwives involved, which had caused a shared negative attitude towards (her) and some animosity that they picked up on in their behavior towards her.
“We see that they ‘bunched’ against (her) in doing so and this suggests that there was bullying of (her) by this group of midwives.”
Regarding Ms Carr’s comment, she added: ‘This was an extremely offensive comment in the context of a black colleague leaving the workplace and the knowledge that there had been actual staff thefts.
“The implication is clear that co-workers should take care of their things as (Ms. Akinmeji) may end up stealing from co-workers on her last day.”