London, Feb 8 (IANS) An employment tribunal has dismissed a British Indian worker’s claim that she was racially targetted at Deloitte after a colleague compared her to Pocahontas, a Disney character based on the life of a Native American woman.
Shivali Patel, who was hired as a senior consultant in Deloitte’s digital division in March 2019, made the allegations against her colleague Ben Combes, a director in the company, The Telegraph newspaper reported.
At a recent hearing in London, the tribunal was told that a “team drinks” event was held in September 2021 at a local BrewDog pub where Combes and Patel were present.
Patel claimed that during a conversation, Combes made an “uncomfortable” remark about his wife in which he said she looked like Pocahontas. Patel felt there was a “racial” and “sexual” element to this remark in which he was comparing her to his wife, and subsequently Pocahontas, the Daily reported.
“I am an Indian female, the insinuation was that his wife looked similar to Pocahontas, the insinuation was that I had similarities to his wife and that he was in some way interested in me,” Patel told the tribunal.
“If his wife is a Caucasian female and Pocahontas in the Disneyfied version is tanned and somewhat looks like me, the insinuation is that I look like his wife who is tanned. “It felt like he was implying he found me attractive; it had a sexual tone to it I felt uncomfortable about,” said Patel, who resigned from Deloitte in 2022 without citing any reason.
The tribunal was told that Patel was denied a promotion after feedback from colleagues stated that her attitude could “wildly vary” which made some staff feel like they had to “walk on eggshells as one slight comment could derail a conversation”.
In his defence, Combes said he was discussing the BBC programme ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ and had mentioned that his wife’s family believe they are descendants of Pocahontas. Clarifying that he did not comment on Patel’s appearance, Combes said he was not insinuating any connection between his wife and colleague.
The employment judge dismissed Patel’s claims of discrimination and harassment last week and suggested she had “unconsciously embroidered the discussion”.
“Our conclusions were that the conversation about Pocahontas related to genealogy and that (Ms Patel) had misremembered, misheard and/or unconsciously embroidered the discussion,” Employment Judge Natasha Joffe was quoted as saying in The Telegraph.
“We could see nothing in the context or in any other behaviour of Mr Combes which supported an inference that any of these remarks were intended to be flirtatious or arose from an attraction to the claimant which would make them inherently sexual,” Judge Joffe added.
In addition, Patel sued many of her colleagues over several incidents that she perceived amounted to sex discrimination, race discrimination, harassment, and constructive unfair dismissal. All the claims were dismissed by the panel.
In November last year, a former Deloitte solicitor of Indian origin was charged over an alleged kiss at an office party in March 2022. Jassen Venkatasamy was accused of kissing a person on the lips, which was noted as “inappropriate”, “unwanted”, and “sexually motivated”.
The solicitor, in an interview with The Law Society Gazette, vehemently denied any wrongdoing and vowed to contest all allegations.