Xerox, the printer and photocopier supplier, is being sued by a former employee for £8 million over alleged racial abuse.
Nardos Mulugeta, an Ethiopian national, is claiming that as a result of the abuse at work he attempted suicide on two occasions, according to reports.
He claims another member of staff had said he was “lucky to be working with us – his grandfather used to work as a servant”, and had said he wanted Mulugeta to “go home”.
Mulugeta was signed off work in 2004 with depression, and says Xerox blocked him from seeing a counsellor and prevented him from transferring to another office, it was reported in the Daily Mail newspaper.
Xerox said in a statement that it denied the charges and would "vigorously defend" its position.
"It is Xerox’s policy to provide a working environment free of discrimination. We take all allegations of this nature very seriously, and support diversity across all aspects of business," it added.
Matthew Tom, senior employment solicitor at law firm Blake Lapthorn Tarlo Lyons, said that having a policy against racism was not enough in itself to stop the problem in many businesses, even though it was an important step.
“It’s very hard to say this is enough,” he said. “You need a track record of the right training, and of severe discipline of staff who break the rules.”
“That’s the legal position - on a practical level you need to nip the problem in the bud at an early stage,” he said, adding that negative publicity in such situations can be "very bad" for companies.
Businesses in Xerox’s position, of being sued for racial abuse, sometimes claim that the incidents took place outside work. But in this case it has been reported that at least some of the discrimination took place in the office.
Another possible argument in such a situation, Tom said, is that the wrongdoing employee was at fault instead of the company, which would argue it had strict policies and controls in place. But shifting responsibility to the employee is "a very difficult test to pass" in court, he said.
A company taking this line would be expected to show a "consistent pattern of severe discipline" of any staff committing racial abuse, he said.
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