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Managers warned of racial abuse compensation claims

Nathalie Towner
Lawyers have warned IT managers they could face tens of thousands of pounds in compensation claims for workplace abuse, following an incident where two German IT consultants are considering taking legal action for racial abuse suffered at Motorola's UK HQ.

Jonathan Hearn, employment lawyer for law firm DLA, said newcomers to an IT department can object to behaviour that has become accepted as the norm.

"An industrial tribunal will expect employers to have an equal opportunities policy and for its managers to be trained up on these issues.

"A victim can bring a claim against the person who carried out the harassment. The employer and the line manager can also be drawn in," said Hearn. In one case, where the manager allowed the harassment to continue, he was forced to pay £43,000 to the victim.

Last week, IT consultants Jens Puhle and Heinrich Sawatzki claimed that colleagues from the international helpdesk at Motorola's Groundwell site in Swindon gave them Nazi nicknames, goose-stepped around the office and taunted them about the Second World War.

Puhle claims colleagues called him Hitler's henchman, and Sawatzki was dubbed Obersturmbannführer, a rank in Hitler's Waffen SS.

"There were two ringleaders, but most people used to laugh. Even my line manager joined in," said Puhle.

"I made several complaints about it, but they were all ignored. I went to the HR department and put in a formal complaint, but they did nothing about it," he said.

Puhle said that it was after his father died in April that his colleagues started to call him Hitler's henchman.

"They were all doing it to seem important. It wasn't just the Germans. They used to joke about black people, the French, the Japanese, anyone who wasn't English," added Sawatzki.

Motorola said it was treating the allegations very seriously and was carrying out an investigation with the agency which employed the two men.

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