A former emergency medical technician at a Greater Manchester ambulance station who said her use of the 'n-word' about a colleague was 'not malicious' claimed she was unfairly dismissed.

Tara Kenworthy-Dowdall worked for the North West Ambulance Service in the Oldham branch for 16 years until she was summarily dismissed for gross misconduct in July 2021.

She was sacked from her post after bosses found she had used racist terminology, the 'n-word', on at least two occasions while at work.

Colleagues and witnesses claimed the word was used to refer to another colleague, Sharon Greaves, who describes herself as being of Black African/Caribbean descent.

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Ms Kenworthy-Dowdall, however, lodged a claim against the North West Ambulance NHS Trust for unfair dismissal in October 2021.

At Manchester Employment Tribunal in July and September this year, employment Judge McDonald heard how the offensive term had been used.

A paramedic, Laura Herbert, alleged Ms Kenworthy-Dowdall referred to Ms Greaves as "that n-word" in an ambulance they were crewing in early December 2020 which she then reported to senior managers in January 2021.

Ms Herbert said that the pair were talking about a "miscommunication" between other colleagues in the Oldham station mess room when Ms Kenworthy-Dowdall expressed Ms Greaves had caused her a problem and then called her "that n-word".

She was interviewed by Malcolm Saunders, the operations manager responsible for Oldham and Middleton ambulance stations, and this led to Ms Kenworthy-Dowdall sending an 'apology email' shortly after.

In her letter, the woman said she couldn't recall the specific context but apologised for using "inappropriate language" and that she didn't intend to cause offence or distress.

The letter further alluded to the fact her daughters were in relationships with "ethnic minority partners" and that the 'n-word' was used at home.

She added that it was "no excuse for me to have used it in a work setting and I personally refute any racist connotations as unacceptable and repugnant to me".

In her claim of unfair dismissal, Ms Kenworthy-Dowall disputed the interview notes taken by Mr Saunders, specifically that she "admitted" using the word, and said she was encouraged to send the letter.

But the tribunal judge found the former ambulance worker had accepted she 'might' have used the 'n-word' when talking about Ms Greaves, but stressed it was in a "light-hearted" way, and ruled out that Mr Saunders encouraged her to apologise.

From his assessment, Mr Saunders found the risk of her using racist language again was "high" as it was not the first time she had used "racial language" at work.

He wrote that a "previous warning was not taken seriously", referring to and incident in July 2020 when four senior paramedic team leaders had witnessed Ms Kenworthy-Dowdall use the same racist terminology while in the car park of the Oldham station.

The tribunal heard how one senior manager heard her say: "What's that n-word being doing all day", while another reported a similar phrase, hearing: "What's that lazy n-word done today."

Her line manager, Jason Shaw, witnessed the incident and spoke to her about the use of the word but alleged Ms Kenworthy-Dowall "played it down" and said the comment was made "in jest".

Others felt strongly that the word had been used about Ms Greaves, however, the claimant said in an interview that she may have used the n-word when speaking to her step-daughter's boyfriend on the phone and that her colleagues might have overheard.

In her statement, she reiterated that she was about to be a grandmother to a mixed-race baby and that the n-word was used at home by her daughter's Afro-Caribbean partner "as a greeting" and "may have slipped out" at work.

Ms Greaves said in her statement that her relationship with the claimant was "not good" and that she had been "antagonistic" towards her.

While the racist words were not used directly towards her, Ms Greaves explained it had an impact on her as it raised her blood pressure and she did not want to leave the house.

She said it was "the worst word you could call a black person" and that she would check to see if Ms Kenworthy-Dowdall would be on shift with her as being in her presence made her feel "apprehensive" and "uncomfortable".

An incident review panel at North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust then assessed a report by investigating officer, James Stone, who concluded that her personal behaviour and attitudes were not consistent with the employer's values.

Mr Stone recommended disciplinary action, which was agreed by the panel in April 2021, on three allegations which amounted to a breach of gross disciplinary rules.

This included unlawful discrimination or harassment against a member of staff and a serious act of bullying or harassment in connection with employment.

A doctor deemed Ms Kenworthy-Dowdall unfit to work in March that year and this delayed the disciplinary hearing until July when she asked her employer to proceed in her absence.

The hearing assessed three allegations, including the December incident, the car park incident and racist and one of discriminatory language used during a telephone call.

During the hearing, she was found to have used the term in an "angry way" towards her colleague and the panel heard how the claimant accepted having used the word twice between six to eight months.

However, she denied bullying or harassing staff members as she claimed Ms Greaves was not present and did not hear the word being used.

The fact the paramedic did not report the matter immediately, and that the four managers in the car park did not start any formal procedure, was also used in her defence that the investigation was "flawed".

It was also argued that the allegation of the n-word being used in a telephone call "derived solely from the claimant's flawed recollection of events".

But the panel determined the term had been used twice, creating an offensive and uncomfortable environment for colleagues, and was used in a derogatory way which amounts to harassment of a staff member based on their race.

Ms Kenworthy-Dowdall was then summarily dismissed on July 28, 2021, and she did not appeal the decision.

Yet in her unfair dismissal claim, she said the process could have been influenced by separate tribunal proceedings brought by Ms Greaves.

When considering this, Judge McDonald said the NWAS interim head of operations who fired her was unaware of the proceedings when the decision was made and ruled it out as a factor in the unfair dismissal claim.

The inclusion of the car park incident, the failure to sanction in July and the use of the apology letter were other factors Ms Kenworthy-Dowdall brought against her employer as evidence of unfairness.

Judge McDonald said it was "reasonable" of the NWAS to take these into account and commented the investigation was a "thorough and well-documented one".

The Judge also said it was "reasonable" that the panel took the view that when the claimant said she couldn't recall using the n-word, she was not denying using it but that she could not remember "one way or another".

Ms Kenworthy-Dowdall further disputed whether she had harassed Ms Greaves when the comment was not made to her.

Yet the Judge again found it was "reasonable" for the NWAS to conclude that the use of the word "did have a harassing effect, even if it did not have a harassing purpose".

In conclusion, the Judge said the dismissal was "based on a genuine belief in the claimant's misconduct".

"I have found the dismissal was not unfair."

Ms Kenworthy-Dowdall was denied any basic or compensatory award from her former employer as a result of the verdict.

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