Polish trainer wins racial discrimination claim

Trainer who was employed at logistics firm for his language skills wins racial discrimination claim after his boss said he was ‘p***** off’ when he gave a new worker directions in Polish

  • Polish team leader Slawomir Rowinski was accused of breaching policy 
  • It was claimed policy said that people could only talking in English at work
  • Mr Rowinski won racial discrimination tribunal because they believed him
  • He told them he had been give permission to speak Polish to help train staff 

An instructor partly employed for his language skills has won a claim for racial discrimination after getting a dressing down for talking in Polish.

Team leader Slawomir Rowinski was accused by supervisor Neil Wailes of breaching a strict company policy to converse only in English.

The Polish-born instructor told an employment tribunal one of the reasons he had been hired was for his language skills.

He claimed he had been told he could speak in Polish if he was training and it helped with that.

Polish has become the most common non-native tongue in England and Wales with 700,000 speakers – ahead of Urdu and Punjabi.

Roughly half the workforce at food company Kuehne & Nagel in Reading is made up of migrants.

They come from Italy, Spain, Bulgaria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Nigeria, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Romania and Poland.

Scots-born Mr Wailes ‘exploded with angry and rude talk’ as Mr Rowinski was teaching two new starters.

Polish born team leader Slawomir Rowinski was accused of breaching company policy

He worked at food firm Kuehne & Nagel in Reading whose workforce is made up of migrants

He shouted: ‘I’m really p***** off with people who do not speak English at work.’

Mr Wailes said it was the claimant who reacted aggressively by throwing down a potato – insisting he could ‘speak Polish if I want.’

He told the hearing colleague Stephen Maginnis first asked him to speak English. But the tribunal believed Mr Rowinski.

Employment Judge Andrew Gumbiti-Zimuto said: ‘We found on 9 July 2019 the claimant was speaking in Polish, this was agreed by the parties.

‘We accept that the claimant did this, as he said, to help a Polish trainee experiencing difficulties with an aspect of the training.

‘We note the claimant did not recall Stephen Maginnis’ intervention. We attach no significance to that.

‘The claimant’s evidence to the Tribunal was Neil Wailes’ intervention was aggressive and hostile.

‘The claimant accepted he had an angry reaction to what was said by Neil Wailes but considered it was appropriate in the light of how Neil Wailes had spoken to him.’

Swiss-based Kuehne & Nagel is a global transport and logistics firm that provides sea and airfreight forwarding

He said the tribunal was satisfied Mr Wailes was ‘angry, rude,, aggressive and hostile.’

A second incident occurred a month later when Mr Rowinski was standing by the Goods In window speaking to a colleague in Polish.

The Reading tribunal accepted Mr Wailes approached him and in a rude aggressive manner said ‘stop speaking in Polish’.

Next day he delivered a briefing in which he reminded staff of the respondent’s language policy.

Mr Rowinski lodged a grievance complaint that was later rejected by shift manager Mathew Lindsay.

He told the investigation he had been given permission to use Polish when training.

The judge said: ‘In his evidence to the Tribunal he stated he was told that one of the reasons he was recruited was for his language skills.’

Swiss-based Kuehne & Nagel is a global transport and logistics firm that provides sea and airfreight forwarding, contract logistics and overland businesses.

Its code of conduct states English as ‘the business language employed across the company and particularly in the United Kingdom.’

Other languages in the working environment can create an atmosphere which ‘is exclusive, potentially disrespectful and may be regarded as a breach of policy.’

Mr Rowinski, of Reading, Berkshire, has been responsible for training new and existing employees since 2007.

The tribunal upheld his claim for direct racial discrimination. Compensation will be agreed at a remedy hearing on 30 March.

The judge said: ‘Neil Wailes’ words suggested it was not so much the breach of the policy that was annoying him but the claimant speaking Polish.

‘We are satisfied there are facts from which we could conclude the claimant was treated less favourably and that the less favourable treatment was on the grounds of his race.

‘We conclude the respondent has failed to prove the less favourable treatment is not in any way related to the claimant’s race.’

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