A former scientist at the Solihull office at one of the world’s top engineering firms claims his career was held back at the company because it had a preference for “blond-haired blue-eyed boys”.
Randolph Palmer, of Stockland Green, has taken Ove Arup, based in Solihull, to an employment tribunal in Birmingham claiming he was a victim of race discrimination and also unfairly dismissed after being selected for redundancy.
Ove Arup has denied Mr Palmer’s claims at the hearing, which has been adjourned to July.
Mr Palmer, who is of black Caribbean origin, was an environmental scientist for almost ten years and worked in the infrastructure planning midlands department (IPM) at Ove Arup’s Midland campus on the Blythe Valley Business Park.
The hearing heard that, after five years at Arup, Mr Palmer was promoted to associate grade but two years later he said his promising career took an about-turn after he questioned why he had not been promoted further.
He said: “From 2007 to 2010 the company subjected me to racially discriminatory treatment which undermined my professional achievements and restricted my career development. I was discriminated against almost continuously by a white Caucasian director John O’Jeil.”
Mr Palmer added that he was also paid less than his white colleagues but when he asked why his questions fell on deaf ears.
“Throughout the period the company subjected me to economic detriment by paying me less than white Caucasian staff at the same grade and with similar work, who had less experience, lower productivity, less recognisable ability and a lesser record of successful project delivery.
“The company’s HR business partner failed to explain the pay differential when I raised the issue.”
It was at an appraisal in 2008 with his line manager Debbie Bunce when matters came to a head, according to Mr Palmer. He said that having had many “positive appraisals” at the firm he expressed dissatisfaction regarding previous appraisals.
“Mrs Bunce informed me that whenever she mentioned my name for promotion to Mr O’Jeil he said I was not the right man for promotion.
“Following this conversation at or about mid morning I went to speak with Mr O’Jeil at his desk in a then new pavilion at the Arup campus.
“While we spoke Mr O’Jeil informed me that my career had gone as far as it would go. That was because the firm had a preference for blond-haired blue-eyed boys.”
At around the same time Mr Palmer said there was another incident with Mr O’Jeil at a staff group forum when he questioned claims about staff numbers being doubled, given there had been a freeze on recruitment.
“After the forum Mr O’Jeil came up to me and told me that it was not in my interest to publicly question the firm’s senior leadership. He insisted that I ‘tone it down’.”
There were further incidents surrounding a proposed restructure of the environmental team that Mr Palmer worked in, with Mrs Bunce being removed and Mr Palmer voiced his concerns.
“I commented to Mr O’Jeil on the unworkability of the proposal,” he said. “He responded ‘you can leave if you don’t like it’.”
Mr Palmer said he later had a meeting with main board director Alan Belfield.
“I asked him what he thought about the claim that my Arup career had reached its peak as the firm was only interested in its ‘blond-haired, blue eyed boys’? He asked me ‘did he really say that’? to which I responded ‘yes’.
"The board director said in relation to Mr O’Jeil’s claim, ‘that’s bollocks’.”
On April 22, 2009, Mr Palmer emailed a paper he wrote entitled Diversity – An Uncomfortable Truth to two main board directors and the staff group leader at Blythe Valley.
“I said that I am currently witness to the organisation’s complete paralysis in the face of a director rejoicing in his complete freedom to intimidate, bully, threaten and discriminate against staff for whom he has a responsibility to lead. This was a thinly-veiled reference to Mr O’Jeil.”
The tribunal, which is proceeding, was adjourned until July after counsel representing the firm was unable to attend after suffering an injury.