An instructor partly employed for his language skills won a racial discrimination complaint after being disparaged for speaking in Polish.
Team leader Slawomir Rowinski has been accused by supervisor Neil Wailes of breaking a strict company policy of only conversing in English.
The Polish-born instructor told a labor court that one of the reasons he was hired was his language skills.
He claimed that he was told he could speak Polish if he trained and that helped him.
Polish has become the most common non-mother tongue in England and Wales with 700,000 speakers, ahead of Urdu and Punjabi.
About half of the workforce at the Kuehne & Nagel food company in Reading is made up of migrants.
They come from Italy, Spain, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Nigeria, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Romania and Poland.
Mr. Wailes, born in Scotland, “exploded in angry and rude words” as Mr. Rowinski taught two new beginners.
Polish-born team leader Slawomir Rowinski accused of violating company policy
He worked in the food company Kuehne & Nagel in Reading whose workforce is made up of migrants
He shouted: “I’m really boring with people who don’t speak English at work.”
Mr Wailes said it was the plaintiff who reacted aggressively by throwing a potato – insisting he could “speak Polish if I wanted to”.
He told hearing colleague Stephen Maginnis first asked him to speak English. But the court believed Mr. Rowinski.
Labor judge Andrew Gumbiti-Zimuto said: “We found out on July 9, 2019 that the claimant was speaking in Polish, this was agreed to by the parties.
“We accept that the applicant did this, as he said, to help a Polish trainee who was having difficulty with one aspect of the training.
“We note that the plaintiff did not remember the intervention of Stephen Maginnis. We don’t attach any importance to it.
“The Applicant’s evidence in court was that Neil Wailes’ intervention was aggressive and hostile.
“The applicant admitted that he had an angry reaction to what was said by Neil Wailes, but felt it was appropriate in light of the way Neil Wailes had spoken to him.”
Kuehne & Nagel, based in Switzerland, is a global transport and logistics company providing sea and air freight forwarding services.
He said the court was convinced Mr. Wailes was “angry, rude, aggressive and hostile”.
A second incident occurred a month later when Mr Rowinski stood by the Goods In window and spoke to a colleague in Polish.
The court in Reading accepted that Mr Wailes approached him and said in a rude and aggressive manner ‘stop speaking in Polish’.
The next day, he gave a presentation in which he reminded staff of the Respondent’s language policy.
Mr. Rowinski filed a complaint which was later dismissed by team leader Mathew Lindsay.
He told the inquest that he was allowed to use Polish during training.
The judge said: “In his testimony to the Tribunal, he said that he was told that one of the reasons he was recruited was his language skills.”
Kuehne & Nagel, based in Switzerland, is a global transportation and logistics company providing sea and air freight forwarding, contract logistics and ground transportation services.
Its code of conduct mentions English as “the language of business used throughout the company and in particular in the United Kingdom”.
Other languages in the work environment can create an atmosphere that “is exclusive, potentially disrespectful and may be viewed as a violation of policy”.
Mr. Rowinski, of Reading, Berkshire, has been responsible for training new and existing employees since 2007.
The court upheld her claim of direct racial discrimination. Compensation will be agreed at an appeals hearing on March 30.
The judge said: “Neil Wailes’ words” suggested it was not so much the policy violation that bothered him, but the Polish-speaking plaintiff.
“We are satisfied that there are facts from which we can conclude that the Applicant was treated less favorably and that the less favorable treatment was because of his race.
“We conclude that the Respondent has failed to prove that the less favorable treatment is in no way related to the Race of the Claimant.”