The panel on an employment tribunal where a black former scientist claimed he was a victim of “institutional racism” at top engineering firm Ove Arup has retired to consider the evidence.
Arup has strongly denied the claims made by Randolph Palmer that his career was held back because the firm allegedly had a preference for “blond-haired blue-eyed boys”.
Arup director Johnny Ojeil and Mr Palmer’s departmental manager Mick Hall refuted claims made by Mr Palmer he was a victim of race discrimination and was unfairly dismissed after being selected for redundancy.
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 in Solihull.
After five years he was promoted to associate grade but two years later he said his career ground to a halt after he questioned why he had not been promoted further.
He claimed he was discriminated against by Mr Ojeil and Mr Hall and said matters came to a head in 2008 during an appraisal with his line manager Debbie Bunce when they discussed promotion prospects.
He said he was told 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 Arup as his career progression was halted and subsequent grievance claims were not taken seriously by the company’s human resources department.
But Mr Ojeil said that as a British Arab (his father is Lebanese and he grew up in Lebanon) he too had been a victim of racism.
He said: “I would never consciously discriminate against another person and I did not consciously, deliberately or blatantly discriminate against Mr Palmer, whether by restricting his career development, undermining his achievements or otherwise. Nor do I believe that I sub-consciously discriminated against him.”
Mr Ojeil also denied allegations by Mr Palmer that requests made by Ms Bunce for him to be promoted were blocked.
He did admit there had been problems over a shake-up of the environmental team for which Mr Palmer worked when Ms Bunce was transferred and two new managers took control.
Claims by Mr Palmer that concerns he expressed over the new management structure prompted Mr Ojeil to say he could “leave if he did not like” it were also denied.
“In all the circumstances I am at a loss to understand why Mr Palmer has singled me out as responsible for restricting his career and undermining his achievements,” he added.
Mr Hall denied there was a plot between him and Mr Ojeil to get rid of Mr Palmer because of his race following the departmental restructure and also defended his decision to make him redundant.
Mr Hall, an associate director, said relations between him and Mr Palmer soured following the creation of the Midlands environment and sustainability team, though said they had previously enjoyed a friendly working relationship.
“I understood from Mr Palmer’s comments that if I implemented the new structure he would refuse to participate in it,” he said.
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.
The three team leaders 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.
“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.”
In his closing submission Joe Sykes criticised Mr Palmer’s selection for redundancy, saying: “The claimant had the longest experience and a formidable record.
Despite the fact he had had ructions with his managers he was bringing in the business. Mr Ojeil said he had no complaints on that score.
“There is a clear record of what I would call ructions – outspoken disagreement and complaints about his managers.
‘‘It is this record of conduct against a background of race that was the real reason why he was selected for redundancy.”