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Halfords manager suing company for £1m over alleged race discrimination

Exclusive: Former employee claims to have been bullied by managers and paid less than white colleagues, which the company strongly denies

Nadine White
Race Correspondent
Monday 10 October 2022 14:20 BST
Mr Adjei-Dawkins claims a duty manager began doing an African accent and making racial slurs against him.
Mr Adjei-Dawkins claims a duty manager began doing an African accent and making racial slurs against him. (Mr. Adjei-Dawkins)

One of the UK’s largest retailers is being sued for £1 million by a former employee for alleged racial discrimination, The Independent can reveal.

Mr Adjei-Dawkins, a Black man who didn’t want his first name used, worked at Halfords as an assistant manager where he claims to have been bullied by managers and paid less than white colleagues in junior positions.

The 32-year-old said he was “continuously” subjected to the treatment during his five-year tenure and was “stereotypically labelled” as “aggressive”,  despite having no prior disciplinary records, according to documents seen by The Independent. Halfords strongly denies all Mr Adjei-Dawkins’ allegations.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is funding Mr Adjei-Dawkins’ case which is due to be heard at an employment tribunal in November 2023.

The former staffer argues that he was “continuously” subjected to bad treatment across two London stores by different colleagues; he also claims Halfords failed in its duty of care and unfairly dismissed him after he lodged a grievance. The company denies the claims.

Things escalated after Mr Adjei-Dawkins raised concerns about how he was treated by a senior white manager, according to court documents seen by The Independent.

Among the allegations, are claims a duty manager asked Mr Adjei-Dawkins to sweep up and began doing an African accent and making racial slurs. Halfords did not address that specific allegation in its initial legal defence, submitted in June 2021, but put forward an amended defence in June 2022, denying the claim with 34 additional grounds of resistance, totalling 73.

Halfords denies all the allegations (PA Media)

Mr Adjei-Dawkins further claims that he was paid significantly less than his white counterparts who either worked similar roles or in junior capacities.

In court documents, the claimant said he was aware for approximately 16 months that a cycle technician, 2-3 vocational levels below his rank, had a higher annual salary than he did, having presided over payroll as a manager.

Mr Adjei-Dawkins alleges that he was placed in the lowest salary cap within his pay grade and denied overtime pay.

He claims that he was transferred to other stores twice in two years, against his will, after he made complaints about his treatment and without an adequate explanation or management support.

At that time, Mr Adjei-Dawkins said he was excelling in his role but had no choice but to comply.

During his time at Halfords, the former employee said he wasn’t allowed to progress within the organisation or have a chance at promotion.

In its defence, seen by The Independent, Halfords denies that Mr Adjei-Dawkins was treated unfavourably because he’s Black. It argued that he was transferred due to “challenges” between him and a manager and because the new store was closer to his home.

Following the Covid-19 outbreak, Mr Adjei-Dawkins was placed on furlough leave in April 2020 but temporarily stepped up into a store manager role upon his return to work on 8 June 2020, resulting in a salary increase.

However, when a white man was permanently appointed to the role, Mr Adjei-Dawkins claims his pay was reduced when he returned to his assistant manager role.

Halfords said that Mr Adjei-Dawkins’s salary was reduced to what it was previously in line with company policy and said the manager who replaced him was “more qualified” for the position.

Mr Adjei-Dawkins says he was treated unfavourably because of his race (Mr Adjei-Dawkins)

Mr Adjei-Dawkins also accused the store of failing to supply extra PPE and safety for Black colleagues during the pandemic, which, he said, risked his safety as Black communities were disproportionately dying from the virus. Halfords strongly denied this.

As matters continued to deteriorate, Mr Adjei-Dawkins said he informed a manager that he was experiencing mental health challenges - information which, he argues in his claim, was eventually used to humiliate him.

He alleges a manager voiced in front of colleagues that the claimant’s deteriorated mental well-being would affect store productivity. On occasion, he would ask Mr Adjei-Dawkins whether he would like to go home, it is alleged.

In its defence, Halfords stated that the manager “kept an eye” on Mr Adjei-Dawkins, because it was mindful of his mental health concerns, adding that the health and well-being of its colleagues are paramount.

Mr Adjei-Dawkins raised a formal complaint of systemic racism at Halfords with its HR department in September 2020 which he alleges sparked “relentless” bullying and victimisation from senior managers. Halfords deny the claim but accepted that there were delays in progressing with his grievance.

An internal hearing took place for Mr Adjei-Dawkins on January 2021, by which time he had been informed that his assistant manager role was being made redundant.

He applied for a newly-created deputy manager role but was unsuccessful, which Mr Adjei-Dawkins argues was because of his race and ongoing complaint against the company. Halfords deny the claim.

Mr Adjei-Dawkins was also subject to complaints of gross misconduct for alleged “aggressive and abusive behaviour” following complaints from colleagues that he claims were aware of his ongoing grievance against the company.

Eventually, he was sacked. Though MrAdjei-Dawkins argues this was unfair and discriminatory, Halfords claims his contract was terminated as a result of redundancy.

Halfords employs 10,000 staff across 600 stores (PA Wire)

Halfords operates over 600 stores across the UK and Ireland, with over 10,000 staff members. According to court documents, it is run by exclusively white board members.

“My claims are not just solely based on the poor, detrimental treatment I have received personally over the years. It is a culture deeply ingrained and manifested in the day-to-day running of the working infrastructure,” Mr Adjei-Dawkins submitted in his written claim seen by The Independent.

“My aim was to always try to resolve my dispute with Halfords amicably, avoiding higher levels of depression, anxiety and possible public vilification.

“I am a firm believer that we all have room to learn and re-educate ourselves, whilst being a part of great change and setting positive examples to mould our future generation.”

Solicitor Joe Sykes, of Equity Law solicitor, who’s representing Mr Adjei-Dawkins said: “It’s vital cases like this are brought to the Employment Tribunal so that an independent judicial body can examine the employer’s conduct and declare if appropriate that it was because of race.”

A Halfords spokesperson said: “We dispute in the strongest possible terms all of Mr Adjei-Dawkins’ claims. We have a large and diverse workforce, and we work hard to foster a welcoming and inclusive culture.

“Mr Adjei-Dawkins’ s claims about pay inequality are simply incorrect, and he has provided no evidence to back up his assertions. All the claims of discriminatory behaviour by colleagues are disputed. With regard to PPE, all colleagues were provided with an appropriate level of protective equipment.”

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