Worker fails to win racism claim

MATT BOWEN
Last updated 05:00 21/02/2014

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An air conditioning technician whose supervisor called him a "nigger" has failed to pin a series of grievances on his employer.

Jef French claimed he was sacked unjustly, disadvantaged and racially harassed while working for Hamilton-based McAra Air Conditioning Ltd between 2009 and 2012.

McAra denied every allegation. The Employment Relations Authority investigated and agreed in a 15-page report finalised this month.

It found French had no legitimate grievance and dismissed his allegations.

But the analysis exposed a string of "intemperate" text messages sent to French from his supervisor Adrian Baars, including a message describing French as a "nigger".

French claimed that he told McAra's general manager about the abuse on "multiple occasions".

The general manager disagreed, saying he was never aware of racial or general harassment directed at French from Baars except for one text message.

There was no dispute about the sole abusive text.

The general manager followed that up, wrote a report and took the issue to the managing director.

As part of his evidence, French put forward "a succession of intemperate text messages" sent to him by Baars.

The worst of them referred to French as a "nigger". "That word, in this country, is mercifully so rare now that its use in any workplace situation would likely raise a red flag," the investigation report said.

"Certainly, when McAra management became aware of the use of that word in a text message from Baars to French as part of the disciplinary process, it immediately reacted as the notes of that meeting make clear."

However, it was French who said it was "irrelevant, as I said I'm not complaining about that at the moment".

The authority was not convinced that French had made it clear to management that Baars was in the habit of sending him "intemperate and abusive, including racially abusive, text messages".

"The onus is always on the complainant to draw attention to the matters complained about so the employer can fulfil its obligations to ensure [it] is addressed and dealt with.

"If the employer does not know about the matter then it is difficult to see how it can be held liable for not addressing it." The authority concluded that French was "the architect of his own misfortunes" relating to his claim of being sacked unjustly.

Had French adopted "a more conciliatory approach" then he would have been able to remain employed.

The case was McAra's first personal grievance and dismissal after three decades in business, according to the managing director. 

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- Waikato Times

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