A departmental manager at a top engineering firm has denied claims there was a plot to get rid of a black scientist at the firm because of his race.
Randolph Palmer has claimed at an employment tribunal in Birmingham that his career at Ove Arup’s Midland headquarters in Solihull was held back because it allegedly had a preference for “blond-haired blue-eyed boys”.
Mr Palmer’s manager Mick Hall, refuted claims he and Arup director Johnny Ojeil conspired to get rid of Mr Palmer following a departmental restructure and also defended his decision to make Mr Palmer redundant.
The tribunal got underway in March this year but was adjourned until July. The company has strongly denied Mr Palmer’s claims.
Mr Palmer, of Stockland Green, was an environmental scientist for almost ten years at Arup and worked at its Midland campus on the Blythe Valley Business Park.
After five years he was promoted to associate grade but two years later he said his career took an about-turn after he questioned why he had not been promoted further.
He claimed he was discriminated against by Mr Ojeil and Mr Hall and Mr Ojeil had said he was “not the right man for promotion”.
When he challenged Mr Ojeil, Mr Palmer alleged he replied his career had “gone as far as it would go” as the firm had “a preference for blond-haired blue-eyed boys”.
Under cross examination Mr Palmer claimed he was the victim of “institutional racism” at the company as his carer progression was halted and subsequent grievance claims were not taken seriously by the company’s human resources department.
Mr Hall, an associate director, told the tribunal that relations between him and Mr Palmer soured following a restructure to create the Midlands environment and sustainability team, though said previously the men had enjoyed a friendly working relationship.
He said: During 2008, as in previous years working together, I enjoyed working alongside Mr Palmer and we had a good friendly relationship - we regularly communicated about work and enjoyed light banter about topical matters of the day.”
He went on to say they had even offered professional advice to each other and said Mr Palmer had thanked him in 2004 when he was promoted for helping him see promotion was “not as a result of time served or doing the job well but was about demonstrating that you could perform well at the grade above”.
In March 2009 a restructure saw Mr Hall become joint leader of the environment and sustainability team with Nick Mitchard and coaching sessions at the time of its creation organised by the company led to disquiet about the dual leadership being voiced.
A unanimous decision was passed on to senior management that Mr Hall should be the sole leader of the team but Mr Palmer remained unhappy according to Mr Hall.
“During this period Mr Palmer often spoke about openly in front of colleagues about the concerns he had about the structure and leadership of the team,” he said.
“I did not find him discreet in his views and he seemed unaware of the effect his comments and discussion were having on the rest of the team.”
Mr Palmer also raised concerns over his salary with Mr Hall, though Mr Hall said he did not claim he was being discriminated against.
Mr Hall said his plans for the new structure of the team led to accusations by Mr Palmer that he was “dithering” and during a discussion he said he was subjected to “an angry tirade” from him.
He did accept that other management colleagues of Mr Palmer - Nick Mitchard and Liz Van Zyl - had concerns about the structure he proposed.
A teleconference between them ended in a further altercation with Mr Palmer.
“Mr Palmer responded that he didn’t want to be associated with it, that he didn’t want to be a team leader and that he would work to rule,” said Mr Hall.
“Mr Palmer then abruptly left the teleconference. I associated this behaviour with a petulant teenager. I understood from Mr Palmer’s comments that if I implemented the new structure he would refuse to participate in it.”
Mr Hall said Mr Palmer did discuss the prospect of redundancy with him, as Arup was making staff redundant at the time but he told him his role was not redundant and he wanted to help “develop and progress his career”.
He added that their relationship did not improve in 2010 and that Mr Palmer “became distant and isolated himself from the rest of the team”.
In September 2010 Arup announced it would be making 600 redundancies and Mr Hall said he concluded he should restructure his department and cut the number of environment management teams from three to two, meaning one environment management team leader would be made redundant.
Mr Palmer, Ms Van Zyl and Mr Mitchard were given point scores in a number of categories, including key skills for current and future business and employee performance - Mr Palmer scoring seven points compared to 12 for both of his colleagues.
Mr Hall said: “Overall Mr Palmer scored lower than his colleagues and therefore his position was at risk of redundancy.”
Following moderation of the scores, all were marked down but Mr Palmer’s score was still the lowest.
“I am satisfied that my decisions in relation to Mr Palmer were fair and correct,” added Mr Hall. “The redundancy process was not a sham as alleged by Mr Palmer and was certainly not constructed in order to remove him from his position.
“Mr Palmer’s race played no part in my decision to restructure the team, my scoring of him or the others at risk of redundancy, nor was it a factor in any of my other interactions with him during his time at Arup.”