What’s in a name? Our latest journey to the first instance employment tribunals is one of contrasts. A successful harassment claim based upon a manager deliberately calling an employee by the wrong name, and a failed disability discrimination claim where one of the genuine and fair reasons for dismissing a law firm receptionist was her inability to pronounce the firm’s name correctly. 
Viveak Taneja, the successful claimant in Taneja v Phoenix Whirlpools, did not have qualifying service to claim unfair dismissal. He argued in turn that having corrected his manager, a Mr Dana Davies, when he first called him “Vikesh”, the later instances of Mr Davies’ deliberate use of the wrong name – all in the course of the same shared car journey – amounted to race discrimination. The tribunal disagreed, perhaps concluding inwardly that Mr Davies would have been equally obnoxious to any subordinate to whom he had taken an immediate and irrational dislike. “All kinds of everything/Repel me from you”, perhaps? 
But Mr Taneja succeeded in his claim for harassment. His name held a significant meaning in Hindi. He had had his dignity violated as a result of the deliberate misnomers. This was plainly not trivial banter equivalent to the hapless Rodney in Only Fools and Horses being regularly called “Dave” by his simpleton drinking buddy Trigger. The affront to Mr Taneja won him a “top end of lower Vento” award in the sum of £8,000 plus interest, after a three day trial where Mr Taneja acted in person and was opposed by Counsel. 
Now for Earle v Wykeham-Hurford Sheppard & Son. Ms Earle, having been dismissed after just over a week, claimed that this was because of her disability, specifically constant pain and restricted movement in her upper body. The firm disagreed, citing numerous faults. One was her constant transferring of incoming calls to seniors rather than secretaries. Another was the pronunciation issue. In dismissing her claims, the tribunal noted after a three day trial that she had been “manufacturing untruthful evidence to bolster her claim”. The token sum of £40 that she had previously been ordered to deposit, as a condition of being allowed to pursue plainly weak claims, was forfeited. 
Back to the name. Even the tribunal conceded that it was “a mouthful”. But the difficulty could have been overcome. At the very least, by writing it down. Or indeed by determined rehearsal. “It was the manner in which Miss Earle refused to accept her own obvious shortcomings which further undermined her credibility.” How fortunate, we may think, that she had not been recruited by Ingledew Botterell Roche & Pybus, or Ralph C. Yablon Temple-Milnes & Carr, two resplendently named firms of comparatively recent history. 
No employer is ever going to be free, one may reasonably think, from the unwarranted attention of those who will play the discrimination card without good reason. Or indeed from the consequences of ignorant managers treating their subordinates with contempt. Knowing that three day tribunal hearings are costly in every sense, any chance to narrow the issues and take the heat out is well worth taking. That is where we can step in and help. Contact David Cooper on 0121 325 5402 or via dmc@coxcooperco.uk . 
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