A nursery school teacher who was banned from speaking Polish in her workplace has won her Employment Tribunal claim after she contended that she was directly discriminated against, harassed and victimized by her former employer.
Mrs Barbara Jurga, 56, who is of Polish national origin, came to the United Kingdom in 1991 and joined her former employer, Lavendale Montessori nursery school in Woodside Park, in 2009 as a nursery school teacher. In 2011 Ms Howes, the head teacher at the school, banned Mrs Jurga from speaking in Polish during the course of the working day – even when she was on breaks. Mrs Jurga objected to this and complained to Nuala and Neil Todd, the owners of the school. However, her grievances were ignored and Mrs Jurga subsequently resigned and brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal against the school.
The case came to an Employment Tribunal hearing earlier this year and the Tribunal heard evidence from both parties regarding the case. Mrs Jurga claimed that Ms Howes had told her that it was “rude and exclusionary” for staff to speak to each other in Polish during breaks at work but that she had been asked by Polish parents at the school to speak to their children in Polish, for whom English was a second language. Mrs Jurga had insisted that it was a “fundamental right” of staff to use whichever language they preferred in their free time away from the classroom and was extremely unhappy when her complaints regarding this were ignored by the school. She said that she subsequently resigned because of this and brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal but, after having done so, received “intimidating” letters from Mr Todd, stating that she had no right to ask staff members at the school to be witnesses in her case and saying that her allegations were “false and vindictive”.
The Employment Tribunal found in Mrs Jurga’s claims for indirect race discrimination, race-related harassment, constructive dismissal and victimization. It found that stating that she could not speak in a certain language in her free time placed her at a substantial disadvantage compared to other staff members who were not Polish and that the comments made to her regarding this were justifiably offensive and humiliating. Further, the Employment Tribunal found that Mr Todd had tried to intimidate Mrs Jurga using “totally disproportionate” means and that her victimization claim was therefore made out. Mrs Jurga was awarded £7,000 in compensation for the injury to feelings that she had suffered. She had apparently received new employment soon after leaving her job and therefore her loss of earnings claim was limited.
Mrs Jurga commented after the judgment: “I feel that finally justice has been done”. The school declined to comment on the case.
Chris Hadrill, an employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “Employers should be extremely careful to avoid discriminating against staff by implementing disproportionate policies in the workplace. If they do so then they may face a claim in the Employment Tribunal.”