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Kenyan retail worker subjected to 'racially motivated' April Fools prank awarded €10,000

A man purporting to be from the Garda National Immigration Bureau told him he was living and working in Ireland illegally.

File Photo
File Photo
Image: Shutterstock/Dean Drobot

A KENYAN RETAIL worker who was victim of a ‘racially motivated’ April Fools prank by a colleague impersonating a garda immigration officer has been awarded €10,000.

In the ruling by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) adjudication officer Orla Jones ordered the un-named retailer to pay the €10,000 after finding that the man was harassed on the grounds of race by his work colleague and the employer failed to take reasonably practicable steps to prevent the harassment.

In the case, the worker said that he received a phone call while at work on 1 April last year from a man purporting to be from the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) who told the worker that he was living and working in Ireland illegally and that he was to report immediately to immigration head office in Dublin to answer questions about this.

The retail worker stated that the person on the phone told him that he had to come in straight away as this was a criminal matter as his documents had been forged.

The complainant told the hearing that he agreed to go to the meeting immediately and that he then approached the on-duty manager and asked for his permission to leave work to attend the meeting in relation to his emigration status.

The Kenya stated that it was at this point that he noticed some colleagues at the customer service desk in the retail outlet laughing at him and at this point a colleague, who was also laughing, told him that it was he who he had made the phone call from his mobile phone and that it was an April fools prank.

The Kenyan man told the hearing that he was very distressed by the incident which had happened on a Saturday and he stated that he had spent the weekend upset and distressed by it.

‘Racially motivated’

The April Fools Prank victim – who worked for the retailer since 2008 – complained about the incident to his manager the following Monday but his manager told him that there was nothing he could do about it as it was a personal matter as the phone call was made by his work colleague’s own mobile phone.

In her ruling, Jones said that the prank caused the Kenyan man great distress and upset at the time as it led him to believe that he had been living and working in the country illegally.

Jones said: “Such a prank was clearly designed to upset the complainant and to give him cause to worry about his immigration status.

I am satisfied that such a prank was racially motivated and that the complainant was singled out for this prank due to the fact that the complainant is of a different race than his colleagues.

Jones added: “In addition, I am satisfied that such a prank would not have been played on an Irish colleague as it would not have had the desired effect had it been played on an Irish colleague.

Jones said that the she was “satisfied from the evidence adduced that this “prank” caused the complainant great distress and upset as it called into question the legality of the complainant’s working and living in this country and his immigration status”.

She said: “In addition, the negative effect which this ‘prank’ had on the complainant was compounded by the fact that his manager was unsympathetic when he reported it to him and when he advised him that it had caused him so much distress and upset.”

Jones said that according to the complainant, not only was the manager unsympathetic but he also told him that his wages would be docked if he were to leave work early to go to his GP as a consequence of the effects of this ‘prank’.

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Investigation 

The Kenyan said that the same work colleague regularly subjected him to name calling and told the hearing that the colleague called him ‘a black c**t’.

After the Kenyan man lodged a formal grievance, the retailer launched an investigation into the alleged use of racist remarks and the April Fools prank.

During the investigation, the work colleague denied that he was impersonating a GNIB officer in the phonecall. He stated that the call was made via an “app” on his  phone and that he did not see the contents of the app as being offensive.

The conclusion of the internal investigation was a finding that the Kenyan’s work colleague acted “inappropriately by impersonating an officer of the GNIB”. lt was also indicated that the matter would be “investigated further”.

Jones reports that the retailer did not have anyone at the hearing who could provide evidence in respect of the alleged further investigation or disciplining of the man.

The internal investigation could not find of any evidence of the Kenyan man being called a “black c**t”.

However, Jones noted that during the investigation, the work colleague did not deny the allegations made and he merely stated that he wished to speak to his solicitor if such allegations were being made against him.

Jones stated that it was clear from the totality of the evidence adduced that the retailer’s investigation into the complainant’s grievance and the appeal procedures applied were flawed and were not applied fairly and consistently.

About the author:

Gordon Deegan

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