A health board equalities boss has launched a claim for race discrimination over the way superiors dealt with her suspension following bullying allegations.
Santosh Chima, NHS Tayside’s head of corporate equalities, has been suspended on full pay for more than a year while health chiefs investigate the bullying issue.
Ms Chima, of Sikh and Indian background, believes the nature of her suspension and the health board’s handling of the investigation amounts to race discrimination.
She has launched a race claim at an employment tribunal, as well as a victimisation claim asserting that she was targeted for raising a previous tribunal case – a move classed in law as a “protected act”.
A preliminary judgment in the case states: “The claimant continues to be employed by the respondent as the Head of Corporate Equalities.
“She has made complaints of direct race discrimination, harassment, and victimisation. She asserts that the fact and manner of her suspension and investigation by the respondent amounts to less favourable treatment because of her race, or unwanted conduct related to her race, or victimisation because of a protected act.
“The claimant relies upon her racial group of being a Sikh of Indian origin. She relies upon the protected act of lodging a prior discrimination claim.
“The respondent accepts her protected characteristic and her protected act but her complaints are otherwise resisted by the respondent who assert that a white manager who is a direct report of the claimant was treated the same way in respect of the same third party allegations of bullying and harassment.”
NHS Tayside argued that Ms Chima should pay a deposit before taking her case to a full hearing because the claims have “little reasonable prospects of success”.
Employment judge Michelle Sutherland agreed and ordered Ms Chima to pay a deposit of £750.
The tribunal heard that Ms Chima is the only head of service with the health board from an ethnic minority background.
She claimed that no other head of service had been treated in the same way and that others who faced similar circumstances but were not suspended or investigated in the same manner.
However, NHS Tayside said another head of service had been suspended over alleged sexual harassment.
The health board also claimed that another manager was suspended over the same bullying allegations.
Judge Sutherland said: “The fact that the claimant is the only ethnic minority Head of Service, and the only Head of Service to be treated in this way, does not provide a basis upon which it could reasonably be inferred that she was treated in this way because of her race or prior tribunal claim.”
If Ms Chima decides to continue with her claims, the case will proceed to a full hearing once the deposit is paid.
NHS Tayside has faced previous criticism over bullying allegations, including claims that a junior doctor took their own life in 2018 amid a training culture blighted by “systemic bullying and negative cliques”.
The health board’s whistleblowing champion also stepped down in the same year, claiming that serious issues were being ignored by bosses.
It came after The Herald revealed that health chiefs had used millions of pounds from the board’s endowment fund – a charity pot – to fund the roll-out of new IT systems and devices.
It was also reported in June last year that bullying complaints at the health board had doubled over a 12 month period.
A spokesperson for NHS Tayside said: “As the claim is ongoing NHS Tayside is not able to provide any further comment.”