A Scottish postman was not racially discriminated against by an English colleague who told him “I can’t understand you” – because he simply spoke too fast, an employment tribunal has ruled.
Pete McCalam accused Royal Mail manager Alan Wiggs of being a “little bit racist” for repeatedly telling him he couldn’t understand him, while “messing up his face”.
Mr Wiggs confessed that he could not understand some Scots, such as comedian Kevin Bridges, but assured Mr McCalam that he was no bigot.
Claim of harassment
After recording the conversation, the postman, who worked at a depot in England, sued Royal Mail for racism.
But the tribunal ruled that Mr Wiggs could not understand Mr McCalam because he simply spoke too fast rather than his accent.
Mr McCalam tended to speak faster when he was “furious”, the tribunal heard.
Although his race case was dismissed, he won a separate harassment claim against Royal Mail because another manager called him while he was ill with stress to ask why he was unable to work.
It was told at the Cambridge hearing that Mr McCalam, representing himself, started working as a postman for the Royal Mail in October 2019.
In June 2020, he was called to an “informal” meeting for driving a van into a homeowner’s wall.
He secretly taped the meeting and asked him about an earlier conversation they had had.
He told him, “You know, when you (slipped) in the office last week and all that stuff and, you know, you made a joke about ‘oh I can’t understand you, I can’t understand you’ and I said ‘oh a bit racist’, you don’t mean that, do you?”
Mr Wiggs replied: “Do I f—”, adding: “Mate, look, I give as good as I get… There are some Scots I don’t understand, I don’t understand them and Kevin Bridges is one of them.”
Mr McCalam agreed, saying: “There are some Scots I don’t understand” and Mr Wiggs said he had seen comedian Bridges live, adding: “I love him, he’s brilliant but by the time he has said the joke and I have if he moves on to the next one.”
Disputes about health
The tribunal heard that Mr Wiggs suffered a stroke in 2016 and has difficulty processing information and that Mr McCalam’s speech was “faster” and that he was “difficult to understand” as he became “fleeting”.
A tribunal report added: “Mr Wiggs’ undisputed evidence was that earlier he should have asked Mr McCalam to slow down his speech because he spoke too quickly.
“Mr Wiggs denied discriminating against or harassing him on the basis of his race as a Scot.”
Employment judge Michael Or rejected the race claim.
Judge Ord said: “We find as a matter of fact that the reason why Mr Wiggs told (Mr McCalam) that he could not understand him was because (he) spoke quickly, which created a problem for Mr Wiggs based on his medical condition.
“We find as a matter of fact that this had happened on previous occasions and (Mr McCalam) had been asked to slow down his speech, without any problem.
“(Mr. McCalam) has not satisfied us with the likelihood that … Mr. Wiggs screwed up his face and said several times, ‘I can’t understand you’ as an act of racial discrimination.”
The tribunal heard Mr McCalam was frustrated that he was unable to drive the Royal Mail bus after hitting a wall.
He also had disputes with managers over health issues and went on sick leave from July 2020 until his resignation in October 2020.
While he was off, manager Robert Gould called him to say, “May I ask what is preventing you from working at the moment?”
Mr. McCalam, who suffers from anxiety and depression, had to tell him it was because he was too stressed to work, which made him even more upset.
The tribunal ruled that this amounted to harassment on the grounds of his mental health.
His other claims of discrimination based on race, sex and disability failed.