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'I was victimised for being a Sikh'

Accusing her employer of racial discrimination, Surinder Dale says the persistent bias has ruined and devastated her.
PTI | By Prasun Sonwalkar (Indo-Asian News Service), London
UPDATED ON AUG 25, 2004 04:36 PM IST

British Indian woman who was sacked as head of a racial equality council in London, has accused her employer of racial discrimination.

Surinder Dale, ex-director of Darlington and Durham County Racial Equality Council, started tribunal proceedings against her employer after suffering months of victimisation.

Dale, a mother of two, said in one instance she was branded a "Sikh bitch". She said the experience had devastated her and ruined her life.

An employment tribunal in Newcastle found she had been humiliated, intimidated and victimised throughout her job with the Racial Equality Council because of her Indian religion.

The council, which has offices in Darlington and Durham City, is a registered charity that states its mission is to work towards the elimination of racial discrimination.

It provides support and advice to hundreds of people in the region who have experienced racial harassment, discrimination and race-related problems.

Dale, a social worker, said: "It took every ounce of my character to oppose them. This was a racial equality council fighting to eradicate racial discrimination yet they were doing it themselves.

"It was a nightmare and a very traumatic experience. I suffered and my children suffered.

"I was called names and told they hated Sikhs. I sent a letter to them saying it reeked of racial discrimination and racism. I received a letter saying I was being dismissed from my post."

"I loved the work but now I just feel dead inside. I have lost my self-confidence and I am scared to work with other community projects especially with ethnic minorities."

Dale worked at the council for a year until May 2002 when her post was terminated. She began tribunal proceedings funded by the Transport and General Workers Union.

An employment tribunal in March last year ruled in her favour and she was awarded 30,395 pounds for racial discrimination and victimisation with costs and 7,646 pounds for breach of contract.

Darlington and Durham County Racial Equality Council appealed against the decision at the Employment Appeal Tribunal in London in January, but apart from amendments to the size of the award — reduced to 33,062 pounds - the appeal failed.

A subsequent application for a further appeal has since been refused and discussions are on with solicitors over how the organisation will pay the money.

The tribunal said that Pat Poinen, the former chair of the council and now vice-chair, made a number of derogatory remarks about Dale.

After Dale complained about her treatment, the council set about terminating her employment as quickly as possible.

Poinen said: "You suffer discrimination in the wider community you can't get away from it. Then you get together with other communities to try and work against this but because you come from all different parts of the world you get into tribalism. To deal with that is worse."

In a statement Darlington and Durham County Racial Equality Council (DDCREC) said: "The tribunal relates to a situation that arose more than two years ago and involves matters that we still would dispute."

"As a responsible organisation however the DDCREC sought to learn from this experience."

"We looked closely at the circumstances involved examined our procedures and protocols and have undergone developments that make the chances of anything like this ever arising again highly remote."

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