Mathan Shunmugaraja, of British Indian origin and a Hindu, actively supported the British South Indian Chamber of Commerce and has worked to enhance UK-India ties, such that he was selected to attend a national UK-India Young Leaders Forum in 2018.
However, the postal worker said he experienced a “fall from grace” when he was dismissed from his job with the Royal Mail after over 10 years of service. Shunmugaraja has now been awarded nearly £230,000 as compensation and loss of earnings after an employment tribunal in the UK accepted his claim of harassment and discrimination on the grounds race and religion.
He took his case to the tribunal with allegations that despite being a Hindu he was mistaken for a Muslim and was called a “sly dog” by a former colleague. He gave evidence that he experiences ongoing distress and shame, both in the UK and in India, at being homeless, unemployed, credit blacklisted and unable to participate in community activities.
“The Tribunal find it was reasonable for the Claimant [Shunmugaraja] to be so offended, given that the term [dog] is regarded as being highly offensive in many cultures,” the Employment Tribunal at Cardiff in Wales concluded this week.
The employee who was accused of calling him a “sly dog” said he had sought to apologise, which Shunmugaraja refused to accept. The tribunal accepted it was “unwanted conduct” and an insult in many cultures and could have "connotations of race".
As someone in charge of holding Work Time Listening and Learning (WTLL) sessions at work, the 38-year-old postal worker would use a multipurpose “quiet room”, also used for prayer by Muslim staff. Following a miscommunication, another co-worker was found to have aggressively told Shunmugaraja: “Let’s go use the [Muslim] Prayer Room”, which was found to have amounted to religious discrimination.
“The Tribunal was satisfied that in the heat of the moment and in those words he was blurring together the claimant’s religion and the claimant’s friend (who is a Muslim)’s religion,” it notes.
“We accepted that being spoken to aggressively was less favourable treatment and the reason for this less favourable treatment was the Claimant’s perceived religion,” it added.
Shunmugaraja began working for Royal Mail in Cardiff in August 2007 and by 2017 was earning £32,000 a year as a manager until he was dismissed in 2018.
“He had worked for the Respondent [Royal Mail] for over 10 years and was doing a job that he loved and intended to do until his retirement. From the first act of discrimination, this happiness was gradually eroded and replaced by feelings of anxiety and distress. The Claimant has experienced anguish, anxiety and depression which have impacted on his ability to sleep, eat and socialise,” the ruling notes.
Royal Mail was ordered to pay £229,161.86, which includes compensation for lost and future earnings and for injury to feelings.
The Tribunal, however, said it is confident that by working with the Communication Workers Union (CWU) Royal Mail can make changes to its existing policies and roll out refresher training to ensure policies are robust, effective and applied appropriately to avoid any similar cases in future.
“Royal Mail is disappointed by this decision. We are now carefully reviewing the findings. Royal Mail takes its equality and diversity obligations very seriously and is committed to a workplace free of discrimination and harassment, where our colleagues feel respected and able to thrive,” a Royal Mail spokesperson said.