A Nigerian midwife, Olukemi Akinmeji has taken her former employers, the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) to court over racism she allegedly experienced at William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, Kent.
She claimed a colleague at the hospital had joked that staff should ‘check their bags’ as she left.
Akinmeji said the comments were parts of harassment she suffered during nearly two years of working in a “toxic” environment where her colleagues would “gang up” against her, The Mirror reports.
She has now successfully sued her bosses after talking to an employment tribunal, where it was heard the comments were just one of several incidents of racial discrimination.
Akinmeji started that her role at William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, Kent, in March 2018, where she worked until handing in her notice in December of the following year.
On her final day in January 2020, shift coordinator Kathy Carr repeatedly said “it’s Kemi’s last day, everyone check your bags”.
While Carr claimed it was “light-hearted”, Akinmeji said: “I do not see what was funny in being portrayed as a thief in front of my colleagues, patients and family members”.
The “joke”, the tribunal heard, was then repeated in the ward’s hallway, with Carr claiming she had not realised at the time it was “in bad taste” and “inappropriate in front of colleagues”.
She told the hearing she had only just found out Akinmeji was leaving and wanted to say something “light-hearted”, and that the comment was made in response to posters put up in cloakrooms over real thefts that had been reported.
Akinmeji made an official complaint to East Kent Hospitals University NHS Trust during her exit interview.
Reports quoted her as saying, “if the Trust have zero tolerance to racism then it should act appropriately.
“My complaint against Kathy Carr is however a formal complaint because she never was a friend nor joked with me.
“Yes, I have had a few sarcastic remarks from her but I do not see what was funny in being portrayed as a thief in front of my colleagues, patients, and family members”.
Although it dismissed many of her racism claims, the tribunal concluded that Akinmeji had been discriminated against by the remark, report said
Employment Judge Anna Corrigan said: “The evidence shows that (Akinmeji) was a subject of discussion by the group of midwives concerned, which had generated a shared negative attitude towards [her] and some hostility which she picked up on in their behaviour towards her.
“We find they thereby ‘ganged up’ against [her] and this suggests there was bullying of (her) by this group of midwives.”
In regard to Ms Carr’s comment, she added: “This was an extremely offensive comment in the context of a black colleague leaving the workplace and the knowledge that there had been actual thefts from staff.
“The implication is clearly that colleagues should take care of their things as (Akinmeji) might be going to steal from colleagues on her last day”.