Rail conductor wins case against West Midlands Trains
Rail conductor wins case against West Midlands Trains who sacked him for gross misconduct because he asked if other countries have ‘black privilege’ after diversity training
- Simon Isherwood, 60, won an employment tribunal against West Midlands Trains
- Mr Isherwood was sacked for gross misconduct for questioning ‘black privilege’
- His comments were overheard after an online training session about diversity
- Campaigners said: ‘This is a tremendous victory for Simon and for free speech’
A rail conductor has successfully sued his ex-employer West Midlands Trains after he was sacked for gross misconduct when he was overheard questioning ‘black privilege’ during an online diversity training course.
Simon Isherwood, 60, was dismissed in March last year after he accidentally left his microphone on, meaning his colleagues overheard him criticising the webinar’s contents.
Following an employment tribunal held in Watford, Mr Isherwood has emerged victorious, with a panel ruling that he was unfairly dismissed.
In his ruling, employment judge Stephen Wyeth said: ‘Freedom of expression, including a qualified right to offend when expressing views and beliefs [in this case on social issues], is a fundamental right in a democratic society.
‘It simply cannot be right that employees are not allowed to have views that they privately express about courses they attend, however odious or objectionable others might consider them to be if they come to know of those views.’
Simon Isherwood, 60, was dismissed in March last year after he accidentally left his microphone on, meaning his colleagues overheard him criticising the webinar’s contents
The diversity session in January 2020 was attended by around 80 staff members from East Midlands Railway, West Midlands Railway and Mr Isherwood’s former company London Northwestern Railway, which is owned by WMT.
At the end of it, Mr Isherwood was overheard telling his wife: ‘I couldn’t be a**** because I thought, “you know what, I’ll just get f**king angry”. You know what I really wanted to ask?… and I wish I had, do they have black privilege in other countries? So, if you’re in Ghana?…’
Ghana has a population that is around 98% black and 2% white, while in the UK 86% are white and 3% are black.
Mr Isherwood says he made the private remark because he felt diversity trainers in the session were ‘indoctrinating their view on us’ that ‘implied all white people are racist – but I’m not’.
The webinar, which he voluntarily attended, covered topics including what white privilege is, how to ‘change the privilege and power structures’, and ‘how to be an ally’.
His remarks caused colleagues to complain to bosses that they were ‘disgusted’ and ‘angered’, and Mr Isherwood was suspended while an internal disciplinary probe took place.
Mr Isherwood was sacked after WMT ruled he had ’caused offence, brought the company into disrepute and breached our equality, diversity and inclusion policy and the code of conduct’.
He internally appealed in April last year but this was rejected and no further right of appeal was allowed.
Mr Isherwood told The Telegraph: ‘I’ve lost my job, my income, my reputation, my health is absolutely shot to pieces.
He is now taking WMT to an employment tribunal, to be held in Watford on Thursday and Friday, suing for unfair dismissal. Stock image used
‘I’d worked there for 11-and-a-half years and never had anything but promotion, praise and awards and even now I can’t believe it.
‘All I was trying to do was understand the subject better – we had been asked to think of questions so I did exactly what I was asked to do.’
News of the ruling was shared online by The Free Speech Union, which has supported Mr Isherwood throughout the tribunal. Details regarding damages have not yet been made public.
Dr Bryn Harris, the FSU’s Chief Legal Counsel, said: ‘This is a tremendous victory for Simon and for free speech. The lesson is clear: if you’re a member of the FSU, make sure your employer knows it. And if you’re an employer – don’t bully our members, or we’ll come for you.’
Free Speech Union General Secretary Toby Young said: ‘I’m delighted we were able to help Simon win a landmark victory for free speech.
‘I hope this sends a message to other employers: you cannot dismiss staff for gross misconduct for mocking woke diversity training. Workers have rights, including the right to free speech.’
A West Midlands Trains spokesperson said: ‘We respect the decision of the Tribunal. West Midlands Trains is an inclusive employer and there is no place for discriminatory behaviour within the rail industry.’
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