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Muslim council employee tells tribunal that she was called a ‘raghead’ at work

Council colleagues deny racist words were used at insurance claims handler

16 February, 2017 — By Richard Osley

Camden’s offices in King’s Cross

A MUSLIM worker has claimed she was victimised and discriminated against while employed by Camden Council, telling an employment tribunal yesterday (Wednesday) that she was called a “raghead” and told to take her headscarf off if she was feeling hot in the office.

Hafsa Ali said she was harassed while working as an insurance claims handler at the Town Hall, and was shoulder-barged while at work. She said she suffered three separate comments about the headscarf she wears for religious reasons. She said she was discouraged from making formal complaints with a warning from superiors that there would be “consequences”.

Ms Ali – who has also filed a claim under equal pay legislation alleging that a male colleague doing similar work was being paid more than her – is representing herself at a five-day hearing which began yesterday (Wednesday) at Victory House in Holborn, the headquarters of the works tribunal service.

Over the course of the tribunal, it is expected that she will personally cross-examine some of her former colleagues who she has made accusations about. While Ms Ali was on the witness stand on the first day of evidence, Suraj Sudra, appearing on behalf of the council, asked her why she had not immediately reported all of the incidents of alleged abuse and asked her to confirm that there were no witnesses to the incidents she had complained about.

He said nobody had heard the word “raghead”, alleged to have been said by a colleague when she turned up late to an Excel training session. Ms Ali said: “I was the only one who heard the comment as it was for my attention.”

Mr Sudra suggested that she had “distorted the truth” in some of her other claims and made an allegation against another colleague because she “resented her as a popular member of staff” – a suggestion which Ms Ali denied. Ms Ali has told the tribunal that she began suffering abuse after telling a colleague that she was distracting because she listened to music loudly through her headphones, singing along and tapping feet.

“This happened every day start to finish. You can imagine how irritating this could be for someone sitting next to her or around her,” Ms Ali said, adding that she had tried to deal with it politely with an email message but her colleague had not taken it well.

Last March, she said she had asked to open a window because the office was stuffy, leading to a colleague “to shout across the room to take my headscarf off if I was feeling hot”. Ms Ali said: “I found his comment insulting and offensive but, instead of explaining himself and apologising for his comment, he turned around to his friend who was sitting next to him and they started giggling like schoolboys.”

In an exchange at the tribunal about the incident, Mr Sudra said: “He was making a joke about being bald, wasn’t he?”

Ms Ali replied: “I remember him gesturing his hand and said, ‘take your headscarf if you’re feeling hot’.”

Mr Sudra: “You opened a window and he said something along the lines of, ‘at least your head is covered’, and he would be the first to feel the cold, that’s what actually was said?”

Ms Ali replied again: “No, he didn’t say that.”

In other evidence, Ms Ali said she had not reported all of the allegations instantly because she felt she was not being fairly supported by her managers.

She left the council in December after periods of sick leave attributed to stress and depression, and after being told that she had broken council confidentiality rules by talking about another case with her legal team in which a Camden employee in a separate case was suspended after telling a Muslim worker to remove her headscarf if she could not hear.

The tribunal continues.

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