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UK sales executive unfairly dismissed over joke e-mail

An employment tribunal in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, has ruled that a senior sales executive, sacked after circulating an e-mail portraying Arab women as ugly, was unfairly dismissed, and awarded him compensation of over £32,000, according to media reports.27 Jan 2003

Bob Clarke, 42, former national sales director for power firm TXU Energi, claimed he received the e-mail from his son, Surrey cricketer Rikki Clarke, and forwarded it to six of the company's regional managers.

The e-mail, entitled "Why The Arabs Hate Us", apparently portrayed a semi-naked, pretty white woman next to a semi-naked woman of Middle Eastern appearance, who had been made to look ugly and hairy.

TXU fired Clarke for gross misconduct, claiming that he acted against the company's strict communications policy, which bans the dissemination of racist, sexist or otherwise offensive e-mails.

Clarke, on the other hand, claimed that he did not regard the e-mail as offensive. He also alleged that he had not been made properly aware of the company's e-mail policy.

The tribunal accepted that the e-mail did not offend any of its recipients. It also found that TXU did not make "sufficient efforts" to change the "laddish" culture among its workforce, and that Clarke's dismissal was not an appropriate measure.

Finally, the panel ruled that the company was wrong to have the case handled by a TXU executive with whom Clarke was in dispute.

The former sales executive was awarded a total of £32,596 for breach of contract and unfair dismissal. Nevertheless, the panel told Clarke that the e-mail was "a wholly offensive document" that should not have been sent out.