A trainee emergency call operator who was using off-the-shelf caffeine supplements was racially discriminated against during a drug investigation in the workplace, a London tribunal rules.
Jerry Ogbonna was suspended without pay for five days by employers Partnership of East London Cooperatives (PELC) after he was accused of consuming and distributing illegal drugs to his colleagues when he was using caffeine tablets Pro Plus.
PELC told the tribunal it had followed its disciplinary policies and procedures by investigating following an allegation against Mr Ogbonna. The claimant told the tribunal he resigned following his suspension because he was reluctant to return to work with his “detractors” who he claimed deliberately falsified information to harm his job.
In addition to being accused of distributing substances, Mr Ogbonna, who had worked with PELC since 2 August 2017, was also accused of taking a photograph of a senior staff member without permission and posting it to a WhatsApp group against company policies. However, the tribunal ruled that Ogbonna had no input or responsibility for any breach of PELC’s social media policies.
Judge Tobin stated that Ogbonna, who is black, was subject to “suspension, investigation and summoned to an unjustifiable disciplinary hearing” in circumstances which a white person would not have been treated in the same manner.
The tribunal unanimously ruled that PELC committed unlawful race discrimination and that the drug investigation did not clearly identify what substances were consumed or by whom, or even ascertain the legality of the drugs in question. Mr Ogbonna was awarded £16,202.59 in compensation for injury to feeling, loss of earning and an additional Acas uplift.
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