Black worker sacked over ‘unsuitable accent’ wins discrimination case

A young black Carphone Warehouse worker who was sacked from a branch in London’s posh Kensington after being told the way he spoke didn’t “suit our clientele” has won a race discrimination claim.

Daniel Foster was 22 and the only black worker at the branch when he was dismissed after working just three shifts with his new manager Alyanora Abdalla.

He was fired after being told he couldn’t speak to customers from Kensington in the same way he spoke to people from Brixton, and that he had to adapt how he spoke to the customer’s provenience.

Abdalla told him he needed to take account of ‘more affluent’ shoppers, saying: “The way you speak is very abrupt and not suited to our clientele.”

An employment tribunal ruled that she had directly discriminated against Mr Foster on grounds of race on three occasions, including being ‘aggressive’ towards him on their first shift together.

Mr Foster worked in a sales post at the Carphone Warehouse on Kensington High Street.

The tribunal heard Ms Abdalla and Mr Foster first worked together in September 2019.

Mr Foster arrived and clocked in at noon, when his shift started but had cycled in and was out of breath and sweaty, and so not immediately ready to start.

The panel heard Ms Abdalla greeted him on the floor, saying ‘why are you late?’ in a hostile tone, and required him to complete a late form.

Employment Judge Tamara Lewis said: “Ms Abdalla jumped on him in an aggressive manner regarding his lateness at the very start of their first shift working together. This is more than an ill-advised way to start an employment relationship, it is very surprising.”

Shortly before the end of the shift, after Mr Foster had mentioned he had had no break, Ms Abdalla told him to go home early. Mr Foster said there were 15 minutes left, but his break should be an hour.

The tribunal heard Ms Abdalla, who was with a customer about two metres away, shouted across to him aggressively ‘You do realise am the one that is paying you?’

She then pointed to the bins and told him to take them out, after which he could clock out and go home.

Employment Judge Lewis added: “The words ‘You do realise’ in that context sound hostile.

“She was negative towards him throughout the first day they worked together, repeatedly sighing and saying he was not helping her.”

Ms Abdalla conducted a ‘final review meeting’ with Mr Foster about a week later, at which he was dismissed.

She told Mr Foster how he spoke was ‘not suited to our clientele’.

She said: “As people we have to flex according to the people you meet. For example if I’m in the Brixton store, it’d be different to here where we have more affluent customers and international customers.”

The only example Ms Abdalla gave Mr Foster was when he would say ‘bank card’ and ‘name’ instead of ‘can I have a look at your bank card?’.

Ms Abdalla wrote to Mr Foster on 16 September 2019 confirming his dismissal, saying it was based on ‘failure to meet the required levels of performance’ and ‘failure to demonstrate the correct attitude and behaviour throughout your probation’.

Mr Foster wrote to HR complaining about his dismissal on 1 October 2019. He said his newly appointed manager had discriminated against him on a personal level and mocked and ‘treated him like scum’.

Employment Judge Lewis said it was ‘not clear’ why customers should be treated differently in Brixton and Kensington.

He said: “We find that a reasonable tribunal could infer, in the absence of an explanation, that the comment about the way Mr Foster spoke to customers was direct race discrimination.

“[Carphone Warehouse] did not satisfy us that the remark was in no sense whatsoever because of Mr Foster’s race. We therefore find that it was direct race discrimination.

“We feel there is an implication that Mr Foster’s way of speaking is more suited to Brixton customers, and that it is acceptable to be abrupt to Brixton customers. Brixton is of course an area with a large black population.”

The judge added that the ‘unwanted conduct related to race’ had violated Mr Foster’s ‘dignity and created a humiliating and offensive environment for him’.

The tribunal ruled Ms Abdalla directly discriminated against Mr Foster in her attitude and conduct towards him during their working together, during the review meeting and by dismissing him.

Mr Foster is now set to receive compensation from Carphone Warehouse, which will be decided at a later hearing.

A Dixons Carphone spokesperson said: “We are disappointed in the court’s judgment. At Dixons Carphone, we take our responsibility as an inclusive employer extremely seriously.

“We’ll continue to work with our colleagues, customers, partners and shareholders to ensure everyone feels included, can be themselves, and be at their best.”