The Department for Work and Pensions has been told to pay out nearly £400,000 to a former civil servant who was wrongfully dismissed after a “hostile environment” left her unable to work.
A judge also ordered the department to ask the Equality and Human Rights Commission to conduct an investigation, after a tribunal found the department had “directly discriminated” against Anne Giwa-Amu because of her age and race.
The department said it took the judgement “very seriously”.
Giwa-Amu, who is 59 and of Nigerian and Welsh heritage, was the only non-white trainee in her cohort and the only one over the age of 50 when she was hired as administrative officer in DWP’s Caerphilly Service Centre in February 2017.
She submitted a grievance for bullying and racial harassment and went on sick within a month of starting the job. She was then unlawfully dismissed in October 2017 for being unable to return to work, the court found.
According to court documents, officials used racial slurs in front of Giwa-Amu, breached her confidence when she complained about being bullied and repeatedly accused her of stealing ice cream. The court said in the latter example, an official had created “an environment in which [Giwa-Amu], a quiet individual, was regularly humiliated in front of the other trainees. We concluded that this was an act of racial and age-related harassment.”
Permanent secretary Peter Schofield, as well as the department’s head of HR, Debbie Alder, were told to write to Giwa-Amu directly to apologise for the treatment she received while working there.
Judge Howden-Evans said Giwa-Amu had been subject to a "hostile environment" at the department.
The £386,000 compensation payment included £42,800 for injury to feelings, which is only awarded in the "most serious" cases involving harassment.
The court also ordered a disciplinary investigation into the DWP staff who have been found to have breached the Equality Act as part of the case, and that they be made to undertake "formal equality and diversity training provided by a recognised external provider", including training on unconscious bias.
And the department should ask the EHRC to "investigate and recommend in particular what (if any) action should be taken" in light of the judgement "to ensure that BAME and older employees are not subject to such unlawful abuse and dismissal during their training stage". The commission should also look into whether DWP has met its Public Sector Equality Duty, the court said.
A DWP spokesperson said in a statement: "Racism is totally unacceptable and action will be taken against any staff found to be expressing such views.
"We take the judgement and the circumstances of this case very seriously."