02/11/2018 17:37 GMT | Updated 07/11/2018 16:02 GMT

Luxury Goods Firm 'Spied' On Black Worker After She Made A Racism Complaint

A tribunal ruled the company had a "blind spot" on discrimination.

A luxury goods firm which owns upscale brands including jeweller Cartier racially discriminated, victimised and harassed one of its employees, a tribunal has found. 

Richemont UK also hired a “covert surveillance agency” to spy on the woman while she was at home after they learned she was pursuing a claim against them, the Central London Employment Tribunal said. 

In one incident in May 2016, members of staff refused to enter the lift with the claimant because she was black, the tribunal found.

The ringleader of the offending group insisted that he was not avoiding her, despite CCTV showing otherwise.

The tribunal heard several other instances of racial discrimination against her at the UK arm of the Swiss firm, including only being given three days of compassionate leave when her brother died, compared with several weeks given to another employee in a similar position.

“By a claim form presented on 14 June 2017, the claimant Ms Cheryl Spragg claims race discrimination...the claimant remains in the respondent’s employment,” the judgement read.

Mei Lai Lee, Spragg’s colleague and a witness for Richemont, said she put up with “casual racism and banter” at the office.

Spragg joined the company in 2006 as an accounts manager at luxury watch brand Mont Blanc in the UK, a firm which employs 800-1,000 people worldwide.

I’m scared right now. I simply wanted to do my job, get on with my colleagues and be treated fairly.Cheryl Spragg

The almost three-week-long tribunal found Richemont had a “blind spot” when it came to issues of discrimination, adding that “a discriminatory state of affairs stemmed from the top of the organisation”.

This included a recruitment process that was “subconsciously biased towards candidates from a white European background”. 

The claimant applied for a senior position within the company but was rejected, and another employee from the Spanish branch who had been made redundant, but had an another job offer in Spain, was given one of the UK positions.

The person in charge of recruiting for the role, chief financial officer Greig Catto, claimed Spragg “was not performing her current job to the required standard”, while her line manager, Richard Foden, felt the same way.

But Spragg was not permitted an interview for the role, a measure which is “in line with the career development policy for internal candidates”.

The position went to another candidate who performed the same managerial role in Paris and had the relevant experience.

The firm’s HR department also tried to discourage and suppress the claimant’s complaints about a series of incidents of race discrimination, the hearing heard.

The department “had received and provided no equality and diversity training, it was not a priority for them”, the judgement read.

Judge Elliott concluded that the claimant, represented by Fletcher Day, was “less favourably treated than her white comparators”.

Following the judgement, Spragg told HuffPost UK: “I’m scared right now. I simply wanted to do my job, get on with my colleagues and be treated fairly.”

The firm said in a statement: “Richemont works very hard to be a genuinely multi-cultural, racially and ethnically diverse employer, with our teams spanning cultures and nationalities across the globe.

“These are the values that sit at the core of our business. We are therefore very concerned with the findings of the Tribunal and will review our processes and procedures accordingly. We are entirely committed to continuing to build a safe and fair working  environment for all our employees.”

Richemont said it would not be commenting further.

Compensation will be set at a future hearing which is yet to be determined by the tribunal.