Daily Express

Worker loses ‘slavery’ case after boss ‘cracks the whip’

- By

News Reporter

A BLACK worker who claimed her boss was being racist by using the term “cracking the whip” has lost an employment hearing case.

NHS manager Vivienne Okoh argued the term related to punishing slaves – but a tribunal ruled it was commonly understood to refer to making horses go faster.

Mrs Okoh also claimed that when her boss accused of her being aggressive she was being victimised like tennis player Serena Williams in a bust-up with a match official.

She had sued her former employers for racial discrimina­tion, harassment and victimisat­ion but all her claims were dismissed.

Mrs Okoh was running a mental health service in the east London borough of Barking and Dagenham, a role that pays up to £50,000, when the row happened in 2017.

The tribunal heard that her manager Caroline Ward used the words “cracking the whip”, accompanie­d by a hand gesture, in a meeting while talking about targets.

The hearing was told that both Mrs Okoh and her husband “understood the expression to have connotatio­ns of slavery”. This was based on a definition in the Online Slang Dictionary – which can be amended directly by users – that read: “To be demanding of work. Originally used in slavery and horse trading.”

Mrs Okoh also cited a Wikipedia article on the word “cracker”, used to describe rural white people in the southern US, which may have stemmed from whipping slaves.

But the tribunal heard definition­s from reputable published dictionari­es which said the phrase meant merely to be strict on subordinat­es.

One definition read: “This expression, first recorded in 1647, alludes to drivers of horse-drawn wagons who snapped their whips hard, producing a loud cracking noise’.”

The tribunal agreed with Ms Ward and the North East London Foundation Trust that the phrase was not “deliberate­ly offensive”. Mrs Okoh’s legal team also compared her to tennis star Williams, who was fined for a US Open outburst, arguing there was a stereotype of the “angry black woman”.

Mrs Okoh quit in 2018 after months off with stress. The tribunal agreed there was a delay in investigat­ing her complaint, for which she was entitled to compensati­on.

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