NHS lose racism to professor sacked and accused of 'playing race card'

Asian professor on £100,000-a-year wins racism case against NHS trust after being sacked and accused of ‘playing the race card’

  • Prof Tanweer Ahmed, 55, was sacked after disciplinary with ‘forgone conclusion’
  • He may be in line for a big payout after winning employment tribunal racism case
  • Accused of bullying by ex-employee he managed at United Lincolnshire Trust
  • He branded claims ‘malicious’ retaliation after he pulled up accuser for lateness
  • A staff survey revealed 80% of ethnic minority staff were discriminated against
  • Judge Butler slammed disciplinary hearing ‘set up’ with ‘forgone conclusion’

An Asian medical professor on £100,000-a-year who was accused of ‘playing the race card’ and then sacked has won a racism case against an NHS trust.

Professor Tanweer Ahmed, 55, is now in line to receive a big payout after successfully suing the trust after he was sacked over ‘laughable’ bullying allegations.

The senior clinical director at the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust tried to fight off the historical accusations, which he branded ‘malicious’ and a tribunal found were based ‘heavily on hearsay’.

But Prof Ahmed – who is Muslim from a Pakistani background – was dragged through a disciplinary investigation and sacked after an NHS HR boss moaned he was ‘playing the race card’.

An employment tribunal ruled in his favour over claims of race discrimination, victimisation and unfair dismissal. 

Professor Ahmed was unfairly sacked after he was accused of bullying a former colleague at the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust

Prof Ahmed had 16 years service and an unblemished record for gross misconduct. Pictured: Lincoln Hospital which is run by the trust

There were ‘so many flaws’ in the way the NHS Trust investigated and sacked Prof Ahmed, Employment Judge Victoria Butler ruled.

She said the disciplinary hearing ‘set up’ in a way to reach their ‘forgone conclusion’, that he had bullied his colleagues.

Prof Ahmed joined the Trust in 2003 as its Director of Lincoln Clinical Research Facility, Director of Research Innovation, and was also the chair of the BAME staff network.

The tribunal heard that in June 2018, researcher Helen Ayre, who worked under Prof Ahmed, made allegations claiming he bullied her and others, made inappropriate comments, and didn’t follow the Trust procedures.

She was being performance managed by Prof Ahmed forissues including alleged lateness before resigning in March 2018.

Ms Ayre’s allegations ‘relied heavily on hearsay’ from other colleagues who no longer worked at the Trust and her allegations dated back years, it was heard.

She claimed Prof Ahmed had joked during a meeting: ‘I’ve told Helen she’s not allowed to get pregnant.’

The tribunal, held in Nottingham, was told an investigation by Jennie Negus, then deputy chief nurse and now head of patient experience, only began in early 2019, nearly a year later.

Jennie Negus (left), former deputy head nurse of patient care at the trust, ran the investigation into Prof Ahmed (right). Her investigation was criticised by an employment tribunal as having ‘so many flaws’

The panel heard: ‘Most of the allegations were historical, none of the management witnesses remained in [Prof Ahmed’s] department and some of the witnesses interviewed as part of the investigation had left [his] department five to ten years before the complaint was made.’

When he was interviewed in February 2019, Prof Ahmed claimed Ms Ayre’s complaint was retaliatory because of performance issues and said he felt they were being pursued because of his race.

A tribunal report said: ‘He also said that he did not understand why he was being investigated and suggested it was because he was BAME and “the white person being harsh”.

‘Ms Negus responded by saying that she thought it was an inappropriate comment for him to make.’

In her investigation report, Ms Negus did not recommend disciplinary action and Prof Ahmed’s line manager Dr Neil Hepburn agreed that a development plan was an appropriate response.

However, HR director Martin Rayson directed that the matter proceed to a disciplinary hearing and the tribunal heard he was not asked to explain his decision.

Prof Ahmed had pointed out a hospital staff survey which found 80 per cent of ethnic minority and 40 per cent of Muslim staff felt discriminated against at work.

In an email to Dr Hepburn, Mr Rayson said: ‘Tanweer will play the race card I suspect. His reference to the staff survey results… are irrelevant in this case.

‘It is a matter of concern but has no bearing on this investigation into complaints about the way a manager has dealt with his staff.

‘We should point him in the direction of the broader staff survey results which (unfortunately) show that the perception of bullying and harassment extends beyond the BME group.’

In May 2019, Prof Ahmed went off sick with stress and then raised a whistleblowing complaint alleging discrimination and ethnic minority staff more generally.

The following month, Dr Hepburn ruled Prof Ahmed had displayed a pattern of bullying, victimisation and inappropriate behaviour.

He was sacked during a disciplinary hearing – despite Simone Seychel, who worked closely with him, describing the allegations as ‘laughable’.

The judge noted that despite trust CEO Simon Evans findinding this word offensive, a trust representative laughed when it was relayed in the tribunal.

Prof Ahmed had 16 years service and an unblemished record for gross misconduct.

The employment tribunal ruled there were ‘glaring flaws’ in the Trust reaching the conclusion to fire him and found it had failed to adequately explain how it reached this decision.

Trust CEO Simon Evans cut off Prof Ahmed’s representative during the disciplinary hearing, saying: ‘All you are doing is criticising the panel you have 10 minutes left.’

Employment Judge Butler concluded: ‘The format of the disciplinary hearing was set up in such a way that indicates [the Trust] had already formed the view that the management witnesses were telling the truth.

‘The playing field was far from even and we draw an adverse inference from this.’

During the hearing Prof Ahmed’s representative was banned from looking at the witnesses, and halfway through making his case the trust CEO Mr Evans said: ‘All you are doing is criticising the panel you have 10 minutes left.’

Investigator Ms Negus however, coached witnesses she brought to the hearing and was allowed to make a full submission.

She added: ‘We would have expected Mr Rayson to explain why the decision to direct a disciplinary hearing was not related to race.

‘However, there is no explanation for the leap between the findings of the investigation report to the calling of a disciplinary hearing.

‘Given this, we cannot conclude that race was not a factor in the decision to call [Prof Ahmed] to a disciplinary hearing in the first place.

‘Furthermore, we would have expected Mr Rayson to explain why [Prof Ahmed’s] accusation of racism escalated into a row and why he used the phrase “play the race card”.’

A remedy hearing to determine compensation will be held in due course.

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