Harassment | Boots pharmacist at tribunal claims they couldn't be racist as they 'have black friends'

Boots pharmacist at tribunal claims they couldn't be racist as they 'have black friends'

A Boots pharmacist who was stereotyped as an ‘aggressive black man’ by a colleague has won a racial discrimination tribunal despite his coworker’s defence that she couldn’t discriminate against him because she has black friends.

Samson Famojuro, who is of black Nigerian descent, was working as a relief pharmacist for the health and beauty retailer, when two junior colleagues made him subject to “open subordination” and “highly personalised abuse”.

As a result, he claims he was stereotyped as an “aggressive black man” and experienced harassment that left him “shaken” and “fearing for his safety,” the tribunal heard.

Famojuro was assigned to work at the Silva Island Bay branch in Wickford in July 2020 as cover for an absent main pharmacist, and was placed in the role senior to Emma Walker, a pharmacy technician, and Nicole Daley, a pharmacy assistant – both white women.

The tribunal heard of one instance where Daley refused a work-related request of Famojuro’s and snapped at him in front of customers. When Famojuro went to “calmly” speak to the pair, they accused him of raising his voice in a “very loud, very aggressive” tone.

This led to the pair calling the branch’s store manager Amy Munson, also a white woman, who reportedly believed these allegations without question and shouted at Famojuro down the phone, calling him an “utter disgrace”.

Famojuro consequently left the store that day after Walker threatened to call the police, but later resigned from the company due to a drawn-out investigation process.

However, Walker, one of the accused, argued that she couldn’t have discriminated against him as she is ‘friendly’ with black coworkers and because two black Nigerian women came to her wedding.

But a judge ruled that just because someone has people from ethnic minority backgrounds in their friendship groups doesn’t mean they can’t still be discriminatory. The judge ruled that Famojuro was racially harassed – compensation is yet to be decided.

Education and unconscious bias

The judge at the tribunal said: "For a black man to be reported to the police for aggression against two white women, in the absence of any third-party witnesses, is potentially a very serious matter indeed."

This case highlights something very important – many employees still likely don’t recognise their own prejudice or unconscious bias. It illustrates the fact that discrimination doesn’t always arise in overt ways in the workplace, and can show up in more nuanced scenarios, where the person with prejudice truly believes they don’t hold those opinions or perspectives.

As a result, this case emphasises the need for unconscious bias training and education that encompasses the preconceived prejudices and stereotypes employees may already have.

Martin Williams, partner and head of employment at law firm Mayo Wynne Baxter, said: "The Employment Judge in this case was spot on by saying that having black friends does not prevent someone from acting in a racially discriminatory fashion.

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"A tribunal has to look at the evidence of the incidents upon which they are asked to pass judgment.

"There is a potential for unconscious bias in all of us, and that bias can end up being voiced in stressful situations.

"Employers can help prevent this kind of incident by providing training, so staff can gain an understanding of how they may discriminate, with respect to any protected characteristic, even if they think they do not harbour particular views.

"Self-reflection in a safe space brings about awareness which can prevent doing and saying the wrong thing when interacting with colleagues in pressured situations."

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