Man wins fight against discrimination

IPSWICH man Owen Butler today spoke out about his one-man fight for justice against racial discrimination and his anger with the union who snubbed him.

By Victoria Knowles

IPSWICH man Owen Butler today spoke out about his one-man fight for justice against racial discrimination and his anger with the union who snubbed him.

When Mr Butler took Textron Turf Care, based in Ipswich, to court he thought he would have the backing of the union he had been a member of all his working life - instead he was left with a very lonely fight for compensation.

On February 25 the Bury St Edmunds employment tribunal decided unanimously that he had been unfairly dismissed on the grounds of racial discrimination and awarded him a five figure sum.

But this victory was tinged with bitterness as Mr Butler felt he had been let down by the very people he assumed would be there to support him.

"I did this for my children. I went to college for years and I want to see my children go to university but what is the point if the only qualification you need is to be white?

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"I feel I have been disrespected and after all my years of service to the company I feel hurt that no one fought my corner.

"Not one person bothered to stand up for me and came to my defence. I did not deserve that.

"I had been a good employee and then suddenly I am this bad person and all my good work went down the drain."

"I had been a member of The Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union (AEEU) most of my working life but they decided I did not have a case.

"They told me to go through the proper procedure and to not go and get outside help.

"I sent the form in they gave me and waited a month with no response. Eventually I was told it had gone to the wrong place.

"I met a representative from the union but he was uninterested in what I had to say and did not want to stay for more than a few minutes. Basically they said my case was not strong enough."

The 43-year-old was so angered by his treatment that he even went to Textron's company boss in America to plead his case but Mr Butler said it fell on deaf ears.

"They said they would investigate things for me but I believe this never happened," he added.

Mr Butler was made redundant in June 2001 after six years at the company. But it was not the redundancy itself that led Mr Butler to think he was being discriminated against but the events leading up to the redundancy which left him questioning his own worth.

This was in a company which claimed in its equal opportunities policies to be committed to, "promoting the concept of equality of opportunities within the group".

Mr Butler, of Spring Road, Ipswich, worked his way up the company from a temporary worker to a product manager in the summer of 2000.

Sadly the foot and mouth crisis led to a need for redundancies in the company, three of which would impact on Mr Butler's department.

The performance rating he received was far lower than that given to another employee who had much less experience and had been promoted from being an assembler.

It also came out in the tribunal that when Mr Butler was promoted to technical assistant a number of the board members had questioned his suitability.

In a statement to the tribunal, from Mr Butler's old boss Mr Southgate which Mr Butler relied on to show racial discrimination, he stated that "certain members of senior management would not look out of place in white tunics with hoods".

Textron said they had "no comment" to make about Mr Butler's case.

While the tribunal said there was no culture of discrimination within the company they still held that there had been a number of times when decisions had been made and questions raised about Mr Butler without him ever having any knowledge of this.

They said the company has turned a blind eye to a potential issue of racial discrimination.

Also that human resources manager Caroline Gumble had demonstrated, "extraordinary naivety" when not investigating the possibility of race bias.

Even after his success the union refused to pay for the legal costs which came out of Mr Butler's own pocket and remain adamant that they were right to refuse the case which was decided unanimously in his favour.