Ex-Partners Employee Loses Race Discrimination Claim in London
(Bloomberg) -- A London employment tribunal rejected allegations that a Black ex-employee of Partners Group AG suffered racial discrimination while working at the Swiss private equity firm, but a judge found that she was unfairly dismissed.
Harmonie Mulumba claimed she had faced discrimination and harassment during her time on the company’s associate program. She disclosed a photo of employees dressed up in “Blackface” at a party as broad evidence of what she said was a toxic culture at the firm. However, Judge Richard Nicolle said she misconstrued events and conversations, only seeing them as part of a campaign to stop her from progressing.
Mulumba gradually developed a mindset where “she sought to combine a series of individual acts and omissions into what she clearly construed as being a coordinated campaign to prevent her progression,” Nicolle said in the ruling.
Still, Partners failed to communicate details of Mulumba’s termination properly, and he ruled she’d been unfairly dismissed. With the allegations of racial discrimination dismissed, Mulumba has lost her right to seek unlimited damages with any potential winnings capped at about 80,000 pounds ($108,700).
The employment judge said that by deploying the photograph displayed at the firm’s Zug headquarters, Mulumba demonstrated a tendency “to seek to find evidence of discriminatory conduct.”
Mulumba said she planned to seek an appeal of the decision.
“It speaks volumes that the judgment concludes with criticizing me for drawing attention to the Blackface photos in Partners Group’s headquarters,” Mulumba said in a statement.
“Ultimately, the magnitude of the omissions in this seemingly rushed judgment is of great concern. The tribunal did not address all of the claims and issues that were put before it,” she said.
Partners apologized for the photograph, that was on display for more than eight years before being taken down. The firm’s senior leadership said in a memo just before the photograph issue was made public that if a similar incident took place now, employees could be fired.
Partners said in a statement Tuesday that the tribunal had recognized that the firm had “fair reason” for Mulumba’s dismissal.
“In line with our robust whistle blowing policy, we engaged a reputable, third-party law firm to investigate the claimant’s allegations when she raised them in 2018,” a spokesperson for firm said. “That investigation did not uphold any of the allegations and we are gratified that the tribunal agreed.”
Mulumba argued in her suit that she was forced out of the company after complaining about a senior colleague’s alleged racist slurs. Juri Jenkner, the head of private infrastructure, told an anecdote at a work event that could have been misinterpreted, the judge said.
She “held the genuine impression that the anecdote had racist overtones. However, this does not mean in itself that it did,” Nicolle said. “We do not consider that the most natural interpretation is that Mr. Jenkner’s intention was to cause offense.”
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