‘I’d worked in my organisations for 12 years before I left. I started off as a receptionist and I worked my way up. I got quite close to a management role in my department. I did notice that the higher you climb the fewer ethnic minority people there are around you. Obviously at management level there aren’t that many roles available but those that had them were predominantly not of black ethnicity.
‘So anyway, I worked really, really hard and I was recognized for the effort that I put in. When I started working with a senior manager quite a lot older than me, it just become a lot harder to progress and he would make comments. I’d never experienced racism before then. I’m of mixed ethnicity – my dad is black and my mum is white – and growing up in a predominantly white area, surprisingly, I didn’t experience any racism until then, in my workplace as an adult with a child, so I found it quite shocking and really unprofessional. Obviously the comments were one thing, but I’m quite an ambitious person so if I work hard and I want to progress, nothing had ever stopped me before.
‘I interviewed for a role which I was turned down for the first time, although I had experience and the qualifications, and I was told I needed to gain more experience as a manager. So I was allowed to act up into the position and after I got more experience I applied again. And I was turned down again. I was told I didn’t interview very well but it was by the same person who had been making all these comments who was also on the interview panel.
‘There was no justification as to why I’d been turned down. And the comments just kept continuing and it was only when I’d been affected by it emotionally and mentally, that I just thought I can’t do this anymore. I resigned and I submitted my grievance at that point.
‘There was an internal investigation and I had to provide evidence of my allegations and witnesses which I did. It had been going on for a while and I was going to give up to be honest. I didn’t have witnesses for every single comment so it was just my word against theirs at the end of the day. Without advice from a solicitor or somebody with that kind of experience, you do feel like there’s just no point.
‘That’s when I contacted the Law Centre. Lance actually listened to what I was trying to say and understood that whether I did or did not have evidence, it’s still what I went through, I experienced it, and it was horrible. To have somebody listen, and pay attention and say that considering all the evidence we had, it’s highly likely the other points were true too… it was just nice to have somebody on my side. And having somebody that knows what they’re talking about, how to word things, how things are done, the process, that was just really refreshing and it took a whole lot of weight off my shoulders. Without it I would have just given up and left it and nothing would have been done. The manager would probably still be doing the same thing to other members of staff and getting away with it.
‘The hardest part was reaching the settlement, which was a really-long-winded process: it took about eight months from agreeing the amount to it being signed off by the Treasury. There were times when I just wanted to give up and get on with my life but Lance just kept reassuring me and reminded me of how far I’d come.
‘It was about two years from start to finish so I felt very relieved when the money finally came through. I’ve started a new job now with a different organisation and I’ve realised actually how much I did enjoy my job and thankfully, I’ve gone back into it, but with different people around me.
‘It was really hard but it’s important to stand your ground when you’re right about something. The more people that actually stand up for themselves and see it through, hopefully, this will happen less. Because these people will realise that they can’t get away with it.‘
Amara worked in the public sector where she received racist comments from her manager for a number of years. Having been passed over for a promotion in favour of a less qualified white person, she resigned from her role claiming race-related harassment, direct race discrimination and constructive unfair dismissal. Our discrimination caseworker took on her case under our legal aid contract and negotiated a settlement for a five-figure sum with her employer’s solicitors. Due to the government’s policy on ‘Public Sector Special Severance Payments’, the settlement had to be approved by the Treasury, a process which took nine months. In the interim, our caseworker wrote to the client’s MP asking them to apply pressure on the Treasury to speed up the approval process and to review the process at a policy level.