An employment tribunal has awarded a Black Muslim woman £24,945.72 after colleagues made racist comments in the office and posted threats against her on a group WhatsApp chat.

The tribunal upheld Muna Abdi’s claim of unlawful harassment contrary to the Equality Act 2010 – but dismissed her claim for equal pay.

Ms Abdi, who is Somali and wears the hijab, joined Deltec, a distribution services provider based in Hounslow, Middlesex, as an Evening Operations Clerk on November 6, 2017. She resigned with immediate effect on September 1, 2018.

She described a ‘juvenile and chaotic’ working environment in the Export Department with little training and high staff turnover. In addition, Ms Abdi raised concerns about a pay disparity between herself (starting at £7.45 per hour rising to £8.75 per hour from August 2018) and two male colleagues identified in the judgment as Tyrel Tripp and Oliver Rolls – both salaried at £20,000 per annum, above Ms Abdi’s salary which she raised multiple times with their line manager Simon.

On August 8, 2018, a conversation between Ms Abdi, a female colleague identified as Arouge, Tyrel Tripp, Brandon Tripp, and Oliver Rolls. During the discussion, white privilege arose from either Ms Abdi or Arouge, and from the resulting argument, Tyrel and Oliver made the racist claim that “the majority of crimes in England are made by black people”, which Ms Abdi challenged. The judgment detailed that Tyrel and Oliver reiterated this racist falsehood even after internet searches disproved it.

Muna Abdi described how the vile discussion and argument left her upset, as Arouge spoke of an uncomfortable dynamic which later improved when raising the issue with Cunningham.

Two days later, Ms Abdi logged onto her computer with a colleague’s login details and discovered a group chat on WhatsApp, including her manager Simon and her colleagues Tyrel, Oliver, and Brandon.

Extracts of the WhatsApp exchanges contained racist and dehumanising Islamophobic language and threats of violence towards Ms Abdi.

[Tyrel] ‘F****** immigrants’…. [Oliver] ‘smell like f****** chucked tikka’   [Oliver]‘’F****** c****, lot of them’ [Tyrel] ‘F****** YES, F******  SUFFER,  YOU  LITTLE  POSTBOX’,  [Brandon]  ‘Bruv whats her problem, Come we bang her’……‘bruv someone shut this terrorist up before I get vexed, bmt ill rip her head scarf off, ill swing them both mums.’

The group chat also contained excessive use of laughing emojis and emojis of Muslim women wearing the hijab.

Tell MAMA has long-documented how dehumanising anti-Muslim language towards Muslim women, as letterboxes and terrorists, have violent, harmful, and in some cases, discriminatory outcomes for Muslim women who wear the niqab or other veiling practice.

After raising concerns that included her pay and working conditions, Ms Abdi logged in again and discovered further WhatsApp content, including that the group chat image to that of a black hijab remained ‘ALLHAMDULLAH’ mocked Muna and Arouge. And, again, used excessive laughter and hijab emojis – as conversations that day in the office referenced ham.

An email sent from Ms Abdi to Helen Bergin came to the attention of the company’s CEO, Mr Cunnigham, who described the conversations as highly offensive and puerile – promising to take action having met with them in person. And, following his investigation, issued final warnings to Simon and Brandon as Tyrel and Oliver, both in their probationary period, had their employment terminated on August 20. Mr Cunningham had a face-to-face meeting with Muna Abdi two days later and apologised for their conduct.

Despite the action taken, however, Simon continued to cause Muna and Arouge to feel uncomfortable, so Munda tendered her resignation effective September 1, 2018.

The tribunal rejected a free speech argument, as it did not consider “any arguments relating to free speech assist the respondent or disapply the application of the Equality Act in these circumstances.”

Regarding the harassment, the tribunal concluded that it created an “intimidating, hostile,  degrading, humiliating and offensive environment for the claimant.”

The tribunal had harsh criticisms for her line manager Simon and his failures to act on her complaints, dismissing them as a mere ‘she said he said scenario’.

Regarding Mr Cunnigham, whilst dismissing an allegation of direct discrimination, the ruling did point a glaring inadequacy – as the violence and hate from  Brandon, “who was to continue working alongside the claimant, that was at least condoned by Simon, the claimant’s direct line manager, who would continue to have everyday contact with the  claimant.”

The remedy judgment, published on July 8, 2021, awarded Muna Abdi £24,945.21 to be paid within thirteen days.

Tell MAMA provides a free tool kit for workplace discrimination issues, downloadable from here.