Trainee accused of distributing drugs was victim of racial discrimination

A trainee emergency call operator was racially discriminated against when he was wrongly accused of distributing drugs.

Jerry Ogbonna, a black employee of Partnership of East London Cooperatives (PELC), was suspended without pay after being accused of consuming and distributing illegal drugs.

However, he had actually been taking Pro Plus – a caffeine supplement.

An investigation by PELC was found to be ‘deeply flawed’ by the Employment Tribunal.

Ogbonna was halfway through an intensive 10-day training course to handle calls to 111 when other trainees made comments to management about his use and distribution of ‘smart drugs’. 

He was suspended without pay after a colleague collapsed after consuming a substance provided by Ogbonna.

PELC opened an investigation which found that the substance was Pro Plus and invited Ogbonna to follow-up talks. 

However, Ogbonna didn’t return as he said he was unable to work alongside his ‘detractors’. He brought a claim against PELC saying that the allegations were only given any credence because of his race.

The tribunal heard that PELC’s investigation was flawed as it made no attempt to determine the legality of the drug. It also heard that the other trainee’s collapse had nothing to do with the Pro Plus provided by Ogbonna.

Judge Tobin concluded that the accusations that Ogbonna had consumed smart drugs were “a series of speculation and innuendo devoid of real substance and containing surprisingly little facts”.

He added: “The investigation did not clarify who else was given such drugs or substances. Astonishingly the investigation did not ascertain the legality of such drugs or substances.

“The conclusions of the investigation were wholly unsustainable. This was a deeply flawed investigation at every level. 

Ogbonna was awarded £16,000 compensation for injury to feeling and loss of earnings.

Case details  

EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNAL
Case No: 3201789/2017
Judge Tobin
Claimant: Mr Jerry Ogbonna
Respondent: Partnership of East London Cooperatives (PELC)

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