By Raheema Khan

A white worker in an Asian food factory who was told that he didn’t understand recipes because of his colour and that he should ‘go and work for an English firm’ has won his claim of race discrimination.  

Colin Sorby won his employment tribunal after reporting that he was told only British Asians should be allowed to work for companies that produce Asian meals.

When Colin Sorby complained about the ‘stereotypical’ comments at one of the UK’s leading food manufacturers, his shifts dried up and he was effectively fired.

The employment tribunal ruled the comments at Mumtaz Foods violated the production worker’s dignity.

His supervisor Azheem Akhtar thought only British Asians like himself should be allowed to work at the company that supplies meals to Indian restaurants and supermarkets, the hearing was told.

Mr Akhtar claimed he apologised, but the tribunal did not accept this since no disciplinary action was taken against him.

The tribunal said Mr Akhtar was an ‘unreliable witness’ who was vague and, at times, evasive.  

Mr Akhtar said his offensive comment was a misunderstanding due to language difficulties, but the employment judge said he was clearly able express himself in English on everyday matters.  

Mr Sorby, described as white British, was recruited by Bradford Management Services, a subsidiary of Mumtaz, in July last year on a zero hour’s contract. 

After Mr Akhtar made the comments, Mr Sorby was told he was being placed ‘on call’ – a euphemism for being dismissed. He was asked to clear his locker and hand in property.

He was also advised to look for another job because he was told he would not be offered any more work.

He was initially told by human resources manager Paulo Silva that this action was being taken because of his poor attendance and performance. 

When he pressed where these allegations came from, he was told by Mr Silva that they emanated from Mr Akhtar. 

The judge said: ‘The effect of the comment was that due to the fact the claimant was not English he could not cook Asian food properly.

‘This was a stereotypical assumption that was not predicated on any factual basis.

‘Again, the context is everything. Mr Akhtar was seeking to justify why the claimant’s employment should, effectively, be terminated.

‘The tribunal is satisfied that the remark was made and it was used to justify what was effectively the Claimant’s termination of employment – albeit he was told he was placed ”on call”.’ 

The judge said Mr Akhtar was a long serving employee who described himself as a friend of company director Bilal Akbar.

He believed a white person should not be working for an Asian company and a decision was taken to remove Mr Sorby, the employment judge concluded. 

Solicitor Yunus Lunat called the case ‘really sad’ and commented that ‘just because [South Asians] have been subject to discrimination, we are not immune or exempt from this’.
The tribunal upheld Mr Sorby’s claims for racial discrimination, harassment and victimisation. 

Compensation will be awarded at a remedy hearing on a date yet to be fixed.

Commenting on the case, Yunus Lunat, partner and Head of Employment at law firm Ison Harrison said: “The case is really sad because we have been at the forefront of enforcing equal rights, because we South Asians, have historically been subject to discrimination, so we should be more alert to the affect words can have. 

“Just because we have been subject to discrimination, we are not immune or exempt from this.”