Rail Conductor Sacked for Questioning ‘Black Privilege’ Was Unfairly Dismissed, Court Rules

Rail Conductor Sacked for Questioning ‘Black Privilege’ Was Unfairly Dismissed, Court Rules
Simon Isherwood, who won his case against West Midlands Trains for unfair dismissal, in an undated file photo. (Courtesy of The Free Speech Union)
Owen Evans

A court has ruled that a British rail conductor who was sacked when he questioned “black privilege” in an online diversity training was unfairly dismissed.

The Free Speech Union (FSU), which backed his case, urged for more "free speech training for employers.”

In May, The Telegraph reported that rail conductor Simon Isherwood was dismissed for gross misconduct after he participated in a video-conference diversity training on white privilege.

At the end of the call, unaware his phone was still on and with 80 staff members still listening in, he said: "You know what I really wanted to ask? And I wish I had, do they have black privilege in other countries? So, if you’re in Ghana?”

The 60-year-old added that he felt diversity trainers in the session were “indoctrinating their view on us” that “implied all white people are racist, but I’m not."

Colleagues complained to West Midlands Trains bosses and he was summarily dismissed for gross misconduct in March 2021.

His case was taken on by the FSU, which drafted civil liberties barrister Paul Diamond to represent Isherwood.

An employment tribunal has now judged that Isherwood was unfairly dismissed.

Freedom of Expression

Diamond said in a statement that "freedom of expression, including a qualified right to offend when expressing views and beliefs (in this case on social issues), is a fundamental right in a democratic society and one that is protected by the Convention rights under the Human Rights Act 1998."

He added that in this instance, however, there is the "added significance that these views were being expressed in the privacy of the claimant’s home to his wife."

"They were never intended to be heard by those who attended or ran the course. Whilst undoubtedly contentious, the remarks he expressed (albeit in an unguarded fashion because they were made to his wife) were akin to expressions of views not infrequently heard on radio and television or read in some newspapers. A significant section of society may of course disagree with those views, consider them narrow minded and may also take offence at them but undoubtedly there will be another section of society who hold a contrary view," added Diamond.

In a statement, Bryn Harris, the FSU's chief legal counsel, said that "this is a tremendous victory for Simon and for free speech.
"The lesson is clear: if you’re a member of the FSU, make sure your employer knows it. And if you’re an employer, don’t bully our members, or we’ll come for you," he added.

Free Speech Training for Employers

Free Speech Union General Secretary Toby Young said: "I'm delighted we were able to help Simon win a landmark victory for free speech.

"I hope this sends a message to other employers: you cannot dismiss staff for gross misconduct for mocking woke diversity training. Workers have rights, including the right to free speech, As the judge said, 'It simply cannot be right that employees are not allowed to have views that they privately express about courses they attend, however odious or objectionable others might consider them to be if they come to know of those views," said Young.

"Forget about diversity training for employees. What we need is free speech training for employers,” he added.

A West Midlands Trains spokesman told The Epoch Times by email that the company respects "the decision of the Tribunal."

"West Midlands Trains is an inclusive employer and there is no place for discriminatory behaviour within the rail industry,” the spokesman added.

Owen Evans is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories, with a particular interest in civil liberties and free speech.
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