Disabled man wins compensation from Royal Mail for disability harassment in “toxic work culture”

Thursday 12 November 2020

Mukhtiar Singh of the Garden Court Chambers Employment and Discrimination Law Team represented Nabil Mehdinejad under the public access scheme.

This case was covered in The Guardian

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Ordered London Central Employment Tribunal  (Case No: 2204261/2019)
Mr Nabil Mehdinejadv  Royal Mail Group Ltd
Heard 3-5 November 2020 (almost 25 years to the day after the Disability Discrimination Act was enacted)

Nabil Mehdinejad was employed as a delivery driver for Royal Mail based at the Mount Pleasant Mail Centre. He suffers from ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia. A senior manager described him as a “good worker, very good”. 

He brought claims for, amongst other things, harassment on grounds of disability. He alleged that a Delivery Line Manager (Muhammed Hafeez) approach him and then insulted and intimidated him by making repeated references to Nabil Mehdinejad being “dodgy”. As a result, and due to other concerns previously raised, Nabil Mehdinejad went on protracted sickness absence.

Two witnesses supported Nabil Mehdinejad’s account but Muhammed Hafeez denied making the comments. An independent caseworker upheld Nabil Mehdinejad's complaint and said that the comments were, “wholly inappropriate… in any situation”.

Despite the findings, Royal Mail defended the claim for disability harassment. It initially accepted that the comments were made, but subsequently denied them. Muhammed Hafeez changed his account and accept that he had used the word “dodgy” but was referring to another member of staff who had the same first name as Nabil Mehdinejad.

Royal Mail relied solely upon the evidence of Muhammed Hafeez. No other witness evidence was provided. Moreover, Royal Mail denied knowledge of Nabil Mehdinejad’s disability.

The tribunal upheld the claim for disability harassment. It found that Royal Mail had been aware of Nabil Mehdinejad’s disability since his application to join them and throughout his employment, this having been discussed directly with some line managers and adjustments made. It found that Muhammed Hafeez was relying upon rumours, which included that Nabil Mehdinejad was disabled. It also found that Muhammed Hafeez had a negative perception of Nabil Mehdinejad due to his disability. His denial that he was unaware of Nabil Mehdinejad’s disability was inconsistent with the evidence.

Further, the tribunal accepted Nabil Mehdinejad’s account of events in their entirety. It rejected that the comments were intended as a joke as had been speculated by Royal Mail and noted that no one had been laughing. It concluded that the line manager in question had “deliberately concocted a false account” and had used Nabil Mehdinejad’s disability to try and excuse his behaviour, which was “very unattractive behaviour”. It found the line manager’s account “incredulous”.

The tribunal awarded just over £14,000 of compensation, including aggravating damages, which had been awarded due to the denials despite evidence from Royal Mail’s line managers to the contrary.
Mukhtiar Singh of Garden Court Chambers specialises in discrimination, whistleblowing and business ethics; he represented Nabil Mehdinejad under the direct public access scheme. 

Mukhtiar Singh of Garden Court Chambers, who represented Nabil Mehdinejad commented that:

“It was a privilege to represent Mr Mehdinejad. He overcome considerable difficulties to litigate this matter predominantly on his own. He was particularly frustrated by Royal Mail’s denials which, at one stage, extended to denying that he was disabled and then denying knowledge of disability despite his line managers making reasonable adjustments.

This case shows that an individual can take on a large organisation successfully, but also demonstrates the steps some large organisations will take to defend a discrimination claim. 

It is also a reminder that even in a single event case, damages can be substantial when discriminatory conduct has such an adverse effect on the worker.

The case revealed classic gaslighting, stereotyping and othering.  Hopefully Royal Mail will address how and why it defended this matter. 

Mr Mehdinejad said:

Almost 25 years to the day since the Disability Discrimination Act, employers of this size are still getting it badly wrong.  Disabled people do not have to tolerate loss of dignity and unfair harassment at work.  

The comments made me feel loss of dignity whilst humiliating me in front of my co-workers.   

This was not the first incident.  Working at the Mount Pleasant Mail centre, the hub as it were, I believed that this behaviour and toxic work culture was tolerated: this is really worrying.  

Whilst working I was studying a degree at Birkbeck studying film, media and cultural studies. I joined this huge organisation full of aspiration and wanted to thrive in a group that is a part of the DNA growing up.   

A lot of people are unaware of their rights, to work in a safe environment and the right not to be humiliated in front of others because of their disabilities. 

To then have Royal Mail deny that I was disabled and had any knowledge of my disability aggravated further distress and hurt. 

Royal Mail relied solely on a fabricated version of events and having a witness concoct a story was hurtful.  But to have the employment tribunal unanimously unpick the falsehoods, is some vindication.  

I hope that being awarded aggravated damages demonstrates the harassment and bullying is not tolerated by the Employment Tribunal, even if the company is as large as Royal Mail. 

Having counsel from a barrister from Garden Court Chambers, helped me immensely. Mukhtiar Singh helped me throughout and explained the procedures every step of the way. He understood my needs as a disabled claimant, this was critical to success. I cannot thank him enough. 

Contact details: 

Mukhtiar Singh, Garden Court Chambers, msingh@gclaw.co.uk
Mukhtiar Singh is a member of Garden Court’s Employment and Commercial & Business Ethics Team.

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