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Somali NHS scientist wins race claim over ‘paininarse’ tag

Wednesday March 8, 2023

London employment tribunal finds Ubah Jama received less favourable treatment than white counterparts

A busy hospital ward in the UK. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

A senior NHS scientist has won a race claim after her colleague recorded her name as “Paininarse” on a work spreadsheet.

Ubah Jama, a biochemist of Somali origin, claimed that she was a victim of numerous acts of racial discrimination over a two-year period while working for an east London trust.

Her alleged ill-treatment culminated in the “offensive” insertion of the phrase “paininarse” on a shared Microsoft Excel document that could be seen by colleagues across two hospitals, an employment tribunal heard.

Jama, who was employed by Barking Havering and Redbridge university hospitals NHS trust, is now in line for compensation after the tribunal ruled she had been “marginalised and excluded because of her race”.

Another claimant from the same department, black South African Princess Mntonintshi, also succeeded in claims of racial discrimination, harassment and victimisation.

The trust apologised to the two claimants, branding the discrimination “unacceptable”.

The tribunal, held in east London, heard Jama had been one of four senior biochemists within the clinical biochemistry department at Queen’s hospital in Romford since February 2019.

In February 2020, Jama was left “upset” when her colleague Tatyana Zadorozny lost her temper and threw a plastic tube containing a fluid sample at the bench she and two black colleagues were sitting on, prompting Jama to make a health and safety complaint.

She also complained that her scientist colleague Claire Beck had been put forward for a three-day admin training course and she was not and that – unlike her white counterparts – she had been told to work while off sick with suspected Covid.

The tribunal heard that in January 2021, Jama checked a work file to find “paininarse” written in place of her name – something visible to colleagues at Queen’s hospital and King George hospital.

The panel heard she complained, attaching screenshots that showed if a cursor was run over certain cells in the spreadsheet the rude username popped up.

In a meeting the following day, Beck admitted she had been responsible but explained the tag had automatically transferred into the document from her home computer.

Concluding that Beck had victimised her colleague, the employment judge David Massarella said: “We are satisfied that the original insertion of the term ‘paininarse’ into the documents was innocent.

“However, we considered that the position was different in relation to the failure to remove it from Ms Jama’s documents.

“We have concluded that this crossed the threshold into harassment: it had the effect of creating an offensive, indeed humiliating, environment for Ms Jama, given these documents were visible to colleagues.”

Jama’s boss, Iris Valera-Larios, was also found to have racially harassed her by failing to take steps to remove the “paininarse” tag.

Jama also won her claims of discrimination, harassment, victimisation and unfair treatment of whistleblowing regarding the “sample tossing” incident, the denial of training and the Covid working complaint.

She had received “less favourable treatment” than her white counterparts, the tribunal found.

On several occasions, the tribunal said, her boss’s behaviour towards had been “materially influenced by race”.

Massarella said: “The trust, through the conduct of [Ms Jama’s bosses] created an environment in which Ms Jama was increasingly marginalised and excluded because of her race and then penalised for complaining about that treatment.”

Another hearing will take place to decide how much compensation Jama will be paid.

Matthew Trainer, the chief executive of Barking, Havering and Redbridge university hospitals NHS trust, said: “I’d like to offer our sincere apologies to Princess and Ubah for their experiences at our trust. The discrimination they experienced was unacceptable. We failed to act appropriately when they raised concerns, and we need to do better.”


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