Irish recruitment consultant branded a ‘gyppo’ & ‘pikey’ by his boss is awarded nearly £300,000

A high flying executive who was called ‘pikey’, ‘gyppo’ and ‘paddy’ during board meetings has been awarded nearly £300,000 by an employment tribunal.

Father-of-one Edward Bell, 52, was also told he looked like a “tinker” and asked where he had left his “horse and cart” – before being wrongfully fired for ‘whistle-blowing’.

And at one social event, Mr Bell was told he was the only person who could wear good clothes and still ‘look like a gypsy’.

Belfast-born Mr Bell, who has Romany heritage, said line manager Sid Barnes made life miserable from the first time they met – remarking on his “strong and thick” accent.

The abuse got gradually worse, escalating after he raised concerns about the £21 million takeover of a rival company by his employers Cordant, one of the UK’s largest recruitment firms.

An employment tribunal in Manchester upheld his claims of harassment related to race and unfair dismissal because of making protected disclosures.

In a letter of grievance to HR head Ken Steer he wrote: “I believe SB (Sid Barnes) saw me as a potential whistle-blower, sought to get me out of Cordant.”

Speaking after the written ruling Mr Bell, who earned £90,000 a year, added: “My family lineage has some Romany. It’s about abuse of power by bullying.

“A lot of it happened during board meetings. But we all know when banter stops and racism begins. It was demeaning and derogatory.”

Edward Bell, 52. 

Mr Barnes was his immediate boss and one of the most senior figures at the recruitment giant.

He told Mr Bell he dressed like a gypsy or “gyppo” and looked like a “tinker” – as well as making jokes about his “horse and cart”, the tribunal heard.

Tribunal chair Judge Hilary Slater said: “The claimant asserts this harassment started from his first meeting with Mr Barnes and continued throughout his employment – particularly when they attended business meetings around the country and the attendees met in the bar for a drink after the meeting.”

It started when they were introduced at a coffee shop at Euston station in January 2015 and Mr Barnes said: “You have a pretty thick Irish accent, don’t you?”

At a meeting at Woburn Abbey the following April he said Mr Barnes – referring to the new company car policy – told him he would be able to upgrade to a “new horse and cart.”

Mr Bell, who was based at Cordant group PLC’s Manchester branch, had been headhunted by chief executive officer Steven Kirkpatrick.

He began on 2 June 2014 as managing director of Cordant Dynamic People Recruitment, a new technology division.

Jo Till, managing director of another subsidiary, said comments were made about “Eddie looking scruffy and Sid would say Eddie had turned up to meetings on his ‘horse and cart’. At the time he joked along with it and it was all in jest, or at least that’s how it seemed.”

The judge said: “The claimant also alleges that, at various times, Mr Barnes referred to him as a ‘pikey’ or a ‘paddy’. We prefer the evidence of the claimant to that of Mr Barnes in finding such comments were made.

“We also prefer the claimant’s evidence in finding Mr Barnes said at various times the claimant was ‘scruffy’, ‘dressed like a gypsy’ or a ‘gyppo’ or looked like a tinker.”

In London, at another meeting, Mr Barnes said he was “glad to see the claimant had made it there on his horse and cart.”

Later, during a group drink, he told the party Mr Bell was the only person “who could wear good clothes and still look like a gypsy.”

Mr Bell said the abuse worsened after he told Mr Barnes that Cordant had purchased recruitment company Staffgroup Ltd at an over inflated price of £21 million, providing him with what he believed were falsified invoices.

Mr Barnes was particularly friendly with Staffgroup co founder Paul Flynn as they were former colleagues.

Edward Bell, 52. 

He had attended Mr Flynn’s wedding, and they had a night out together when both on holiday in Ibiza. He was also on good terms with the other founder, Mark Znowski.

The judge said: “We consider Mr Barnes’ friendship with the MDs of Staffgroup Ltd to be significant.

“The affiliation with Staffgroup would be consistent with Mr Barnes reacting badly to the claimant raising protected disclosues relating to the conduct of Staffgroup.”

Mr Bell was put on garden leave at the end of September 2015 and given six months notice, which expired on 28 March 2016.

Mr Barnes forced him out with false allegations of poor performance and replaced him with a friend at an over inflated salary, the tribunal heard.

Mr Bell, who lives in Manchester, said afterwards: “I was effectively sacked for being a whistleblower. I was prepared to take the racism on the chin.”

In the six page letter to Mr Steers he said throughout his time with the company, and growing more frequently towards the end, “I was constantly receiving remarks to my face from Sid, very disparaging and racist comments became very much a part of his way of speaking to me.”

He said: “Comments as to my appearance and way of being a ‘pikey’, ‘tinker’, ‘dressing like a gyppo’ or ‘paddy’ became regular, I even made a joke about it on my last day when you were there in Northampton.”

Divorcee Mr Bell, was awarded £283,472.03 which included loss of earnings, bonuses, pension, life assurance, long-term illness insurance and injury to feelings.

He has since applied for over 100 jobs – including roles as a delivery driver, a manager with Aldi and at a call centre – without success.

He said his ability to obtain comparable employment was “severely hindered” by the manner of his dismissal.

 

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