Lloyds Banking Group Plc executives went too far when they fired a manager for using the N-word at an anti-racism training session, London judges ruled, highlighting how banks can overstep when tackling racist language in the workplace.
(Bloomberg) — Lloyds Banking Group Plc executives went too far when they fired a manager for using the N-word at an anti-racism training session, London judges ruled, highlighting how banks can overstep when tackling racist language in the workplace.
Carl Borg-Neal, was fired for using the full racist slur during a discussion about the impact of language at an online race education training course attended by about 100 of the bank’s line managers. Judges at a London employment tribunal ruled that although Lloyds’ executives may have felt that anything other than a dismissal would mean condoning the use of the word, the firing was still unfair.
“If the bank wanted to make a point, it could have given the claimant a warning,” the judges said in their ruling. “The whole purpose was to explore intention vs effect, and for the attendees to learn.”
The UK’s largest employers are increasingly at the front line of a cultural tug-of-war with Lloyds’ rival NatWest Group Plc facing criticism this summer for shutting down the bank account of Brexit campaigner and talk show host Nigel Farage on personal and political grounds.
Borg-Neal, a longstanding manager who first joined Lloyds in 1993, apologized immediately and Lloyds’ managers accepted that he acted without malice. But Borg-Neal’s dyslexia can lead to him blurting thoughts out, the tribunal said, which likely meant that he used the full word rather than finding a way to avoid it. The judges ruled that the dismissal involved disability discrimination and will decide the size of a payout in October.
During the hearing, Borg-Neal, who is White, failed to convince the judges that he was discriminated against on account of his race. He’d argued that a Black employee would have been treated differently.
Lloyds said it is considering appealing the ruling. “We have a zero-tolerance policy on any racial discrimination or use of racist language,” the bank said.
The training took place in July 2021 — just over a year after George Floyd was murdered by a White police officer in Minneapolis. When Borg-Neal asked how he should handle a situation where he heard someone use language that might be offensive if not used by someone within that ethnic minority.
“The most common example being use of the N-word in the Black community,” he asked in the class using the full word.
The language distressed the trainer at the session who was said to be filled with “incredulity, rage and sadness” and needed to take time off, according to the ruling.
For Borg-Neal, the impact was “enormous,” judges said in the decision. “He lost a job where he had found he could excel with his dyslexia.”
His lawyer said the case had had a “devastating effect” on his mental health.
“He explained over and again to Lloyds that his use of the N-word in full was not intentional, not intended to cause upset and he offered may apologies,” Emma Hamnett, his lawyer at Doyle Clayton, said.
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