Sudanese law clerk racially harassed and bullied

1:48 pm on 24 March 2016

A Sudanese law clerk who was found to have been racially harassed and bullied at an Auckland firm has been awarded $7500.

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) found criticism of Rabah Bashir's English due to his ethnicity was baseless. The criticism came from by his employer, John Appleby - the sole director and practitioner at Ladbrook Law.

Mr Bashir's family moved to Auckland when he was 11, and he had a good grasp of the English language having lived in United Arab Emirates as a child.

He graduated from Victoria University in 2013 with a law degree and began working as a clerk at Ladbrook Law.

After several months, Mr Appleby criticised Mr Bashir's written correspondence and commented about his Arabic ethnicity, connecting it to a "lack of proficiency in written English".

He also told Mr Bashir "English can at times be difficult for non-native speakers".

After being made redundant at the end of 2014, Mr Bashir took his case to the Employment Relations Authority and won.

Tania Tetitaha, a member of the ERA, said: "There was no evidential foundation for Mr Appleby to comment upon Mr Bashir's racial background including in particular his bilingualism when critiquing his work performance."

Mr Appleby accepted under oath his comments were directed at Mr Bashir's Arabic background, but "were not racist".

Ms Teitaha said Mr Appleby's comments "ignored the relevant facts that Mr Bashir had attained a high level of academic literacy in English".

If anything, his "ethnic background appears to have spurred him to achieve."

She said the legal tests for racial harassment were met.

Ms Tetitaha also said Mr Appleby was in a position of power and his behaviour on some occasions was bullying.

"He accepted losing his temper and saying things that upset Mr Bashir on 21 October. He then repeated this behaviour again."

Mr Appleby told RNZ he was still deciding whether to appeal.

"It sends a chilling message when attempts to correct grammatical errors are seen as racist," he said.