Pilot loses 'racist culture' case against BA

Allegations over offensive cockpit banter led to employment tribunal

A British Airways pilot who blew the whistle on what he called a "canteen culture of racism" among fellow pilots is facing a £4,400 legal bill after losing a battle with the airline at an employment tribunal. Captain Doug Maughan claims he has been continuously victimised by BA since he spoke to The Independent about the casual racism of older pilots working for the company that calls itself "the world's favourite airline".

Captain Maughan, whose wife is Asian, objected to hearing the words "coon" and "ragheads" used in conversation in the cockpit. He had complained to BA's management but, because they did nothing about his concerns, he turned to The Independent. He told the newspaper that older BA pilots casually used racist language in private. His allegations were particularly embarrassing for an airline that operates on every continent.

Captain Maughan, who has 29 years' flying experience, suggested that, because 99 per cent of BA pilots are white and most spend their whole working lives with the company, there was an attitude among older pilots in particular that racist remarks were acceptable.

He lodged his first complaint after hearing a senior pilot say "coon" during a training session on a flight simulator. He also complained that during a flight to Los Angeles, when there was a large party of Saudis on board, the pilot began "an extraordinary rant" in the cockpit about "ragheads".

After the article was published, in April 2008, Captain Maughan said that he was threatened over the telephone by someone who claimed to know where he lived. He said he believed it must have been a fellow pilot, because only someone with access to the pilots' duty roster could have traced him to Singapore, where he was staying overnight. He alleges that when he reported this incident, verbally, to BA, they did not take it seriously. Since then, his relationship with his employer has deteriorated and he has been issued with a final written warning. BA has not yet disclosed publicly the substance of their complaint against the pilot. He claims the warning is part of a campaign of victimisation.

He went to tribunal, representing himself, alleging victimisation under the Race Relations Act but was defeated on a legal technicality yesterday and ordered to pay £4,400 towards BA's legal fees.

He told the tribunal: "There was continuous victimisation, a number of episodes over a period of time, which became more intense after the article in The Independent. I had complained a number of times about the canteen culture of racism in BA."

The judge, Mr David Cockburn, ruled that the tribunal had no discretion to hear Captain Maughan's complaint under the Race Relations Act after he had "candidly" accepted that he had not put his complaints to BA in writing. He also accepted BA's argument that it was "unreasonable" to have brought a case to a tribunal that was not based on a written grievance, and awarded them costs.

But he also ordered a two-day hearing in June so Captain Maughan can appeal against the final written warning from BA. He is expected to fight that by representing himself again, after Balpa, the pilots' union, rejected his plea for legal assistance. BA said Captain Maughan had a duty to provide details of any racist conduct directly to the airline.