Lepra cleared of racism charge

An industrial tribunal last week found medical aid charity Lepra guilty of constructively dismissing a Bangladeshi employee but did not uphold a charge of race discrimination made against the organisation's chief executive.

Lepra, which works to relieve leprosy and other povertyrelated diseases in nine developing countries, was judged to have acted improperly against Rokunuz Zaman, who was Bangladesh programme officer at the charity between May 2004 and November 2005.

June Laidler, the chairwoman of the tribunal, ruled that Lepra treated Zaman unfairly following a disciplinary hearing to deal with the accusation that he was having an affair with a member of staff in Lepra's Dhakar office.

During the tribunal, Zaman strongly denied any misconduct. He said that during his disciplinary hearing at the charity his statement had been left unread and he was told that he had 15 minutes to resign or be dismissed (Third Sector, 11 July).

Lepra maintained that Zaman resigned during an uncompleted disciplinary process.

Laidler ruled that Zaman's claims that he was subjected to racist comments by Terry Vasey, the chief executive of Lepra, could not be linked to his constructive dismissal.

Speaking to Third Sector, Bernard Farmer, director of development at Lepra, said: "Any conscientious employer would be deeply troubled by any allegation of race discrimination. But this was particularly important for Lepra, because we work on behalf of some of the poorest and most marginalised communities in the world.

"We feel that the finding of the tribunal vindicates our position and protects our reputation." Farmer added that the charity had been "surprised and disappointed" to be found guilty of constructive dismissal.

Speaking for Zaman, lawyer Liz Whitehead said that her client was hoping to appeal over the race-discrimination decision. But both parties must wait until the written verdict is released before making any applications for appeal.

The hearing began in Bury St Edmunds tribunal in April, but was adjourned until July, when it was relocated to Stratford in east London.

Lepra now faces further tribunal action by three other ex-employees.

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