£490k payout | Bank manager was unfairly sacked after using the N-word during racism training session

Bank manager was unfairly sacked after using the N-word during racism training session

A bank manager who was sacked after using the N-word during an anti-racism seminar has won a £490,000 payout.

Carl Borg-Neal used the term when asking a question during a session provided for Lloyds Bank - misinterpreting the trainer’s invitation to “speak freely” and “be clumsy”.

But his use of the term reportedly left the training provider distressed and needing time off work after hearing the N-word, leading to an internal probe and the subsequent end of Mr Borg-Neal’s 27 years with the company.

However, an employment tribunal has now awarded him a huge compensatory sum on the grounds of disability discrimination, owing to Mr Borg-Neal’s dyslexia which contributed to his decision making during the training session.

The total Lloyds payout is expected to surpass £1million after legal fees and court costs are taken into account.

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According to the Free Speech Union, which supported the legal case, the incident unfolded in July 2021 when, as one of around 100 senior Lloyds managers, Mr Borg-Neal  participated in an online training session, provided by an external organisation. The training formed part of the bank’s ‘Race Action Plan’, launched a year prior in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

At the time, Mr Borg-Neal had previously participated in a scheme mentoring young colleagues from ethnic minority backgrounds and was working with three mentees at the time. 

At the start of the session, the trainer established several ground rules for the session, reportedly telling attendees to not “worry about saying the wrong thing,” adding that the session was an “opportunity to practice, learn and be clumsy… the goal is to start talking, so please speak freely, and forgive yourself and others when being clumsy today.”

Mr Borg-Neal, who is dyslexic, took this statement at face-value, the FSU stated. 

Thinking ‘partly about rap music’, he asked how, as a line manager, he should handle a situation where he heard someone from an ethnic minority background use a word that might be considered offensive if used by a white person. 

Providing more context to his question, he added: “The most common example being use of the word n***** in the black community.”

Mr Borg-Neal tried to apologise for any offence after being ‘berated’ by the trainer, but was told if he spoke again he would be thrown off the course.

Anonymous feedback collated after the session suggests other attendees were “shocked by the manner and tone used by one presenter to a colleague,”, while another described the situation as “a vitriolic attack” in response to a “valid question to aid understanding.”

After the course, the distressed trainer took several days off, having been distressed and insulted by the use of the N-word, following which the training providers complained to Lloyds Bank.

Bosses launched an internal investigation and disciplinary process against Mr Borg-Neal, finding him guilty of gross misconduct and terminating his employment.

After an unsuccessful internal appeal, Mr Borg-Neal launched employment tribunal appeal proceedings with support from the FSU. 

During the hearing, Lloyds representatives admitted that Mr Borg-Neal had not intended to cause any hurt with his use of the N-word, but argued they were right to sack him because he should have known better than “to use the full word in a professional environment”. 

However, it was stated at the tribunal that Mr Borg-Neal’s question was well-intentioned and relevant, in regards to how to handle a situation of racially offensive language in the workplace. There was no suggestion that he was taking an opportunity to utter an abusive term under cover of a question.

The employment judge also concluded Mr Borg-Neal’s dyslexia was a “strong factor causing how he expressed himself in a session and in his use of the full word rather than finding a means to avoid it”.

Ruling that “no reasonable employer would have dismissed” Mr Borg-Neal, the tribunal panel has ordered them to pay their ex-employee £490,000 in compensation, which legal costs and fees expected to take the bank’s total financial hit into seven figures.

A spokesperson for Lloyds said the bank accepted the findings of the tribunal.

What the ruling means for Lloyds

Toby Young, founder and director of the FSU, said: “The financial compensation Carl has secured is groundbreaking. But in addition, the Tribunal made various recommendations that Lloyds will have to follow.

“Senior members of the bank, including members of the Board, have been ordered to read and digest the judgment, learning, if they did not appreciate it already, that context is everything when deciding whether to dismiss someone for breaching a workplace speech code.

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“In addition, The bank has to inform the Financial Conduct Authority that it got this one wrong – they have to tell the regulator that their dismissal of Carl was substantially and procedurally unfair and an act of disability discrimination.

“Finally, they have to correct their internal records and provide a reference for Carl to future employers.

“These recommendations mean this case will have a lasting footprint that should stamp out this kind of behaviour by employers when faced with similar complaints and, as Carl wants, stop this happening to others.”

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