Private equity worker on £81,000 a year who complained about colleagues ‘blacking up’ as Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act at office Christmas party and alleged she was victimised when she was sacked loses race discrimination case
An associate at a global investment firm has lost a racism discrimination case after she alleged bosses told racist jokes and painted their faces black to portray actress Whoopi Goldberg at a Christmas party.
Harmonie Mulumba complained after a photograph of two male co-workers, whose faces were painted black, was displayed at the company’s headquarters.
An employment tribunal heard the staff members at Partners Group had painted their faces black to portray American actress Whoppi Goldberg at an office Christmas party while others dressed as nuns from the 1992 comedy.
The private equity employee, who earned £81,000, claimed displaying the photo of the colleagues on a filing cabinet racially discriminated against her.
The allegation was one of many put forward by Miss Mulumba at the tribunal as she tried to sue the international finance firm.
However, her discrimination claims have now been thrown out, with a judge ruling they were without merit.
The tribunal even found she had deliberately tried to ‘find evidence’ – including the blackface photo – to allege she was the target of a discriminatory ‘campaign’ against her.
Harmonie Mulumba made claims including race, sex, and disability discrimination, as well as harassment and victimisation
She complained after a photograph of two male co-workers, whose faces were painted black, was displayed at the company’s headquarters
Miss Mulumba, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, had analyst roles at Goldman Sachs and eBay before joining Partners Group in September 2015.
The central London hearing was told she worked there until August 2018 when she was sacked.
Partners Group, which has 20 offices worldwide, is part of a global private markets investment management business and Miss Mulumba joined its sought-after associate programme.
The tribunal heard details of the Christmas party incident at a Partners Group party in its HQ in Zug, Switzerland in 2012.
A tribunal report said: ‘[For the] 2012 global corporate day followed by a Christmas party, [employee Carmen Piccini] participated in an entertainment act pursuant to which two of her colleagues painted their faces black because they wanted to dress up as Whoopi Goldberg.’
Ms Piccini, an accountant based at the Swiss office who is a black Latino, said the ‘blacking up’ had ‘no malice’.
The report said: ‘She says she was not offended and that there was no malice or bad intentions involved.
‘She said the photograph of her colleagues in black face was uploaded onto her Facebook account and subsequently printed and displayed on a filing cabinet in the Zug office.’
At the tribunal, Miss Mulumba made claims including race, sex, and disability discrimination, as well as harassment and victimisation.
She alleged bosses told ‘racist jokes’, said ‘a woman’s place is in the kitchen’ during a business trip to Uganda, and that ‘women should stay at home as they have smaller egos’.
She claimed bosses mocked an Indian colleague’s accent, told her that she should be ‘more aggressive but not too much more because she is a woman’, and that co-workers ‘shunned and ignored’ her.
The central London hearing was told she worked there until August 2018 when she was sacked. (Stock image)
Further, she complained she was given low scores, was not invited on a team lunch, that she was not given a suitable desk, that she was ‘blocked’ from job roles, and was ‘managed out’ by bosses.
All claims were found to be without merit or that they didn’t occur as she alleged.
Of the ‘blackface’ photo, the tribunal said it did not ‘pertain’ to any discrimination towards her personally.
The tribunal also found Partners Group managers rightfully had doubts over her performance, as she was scored ‘below average’, lacking ‘drive and motivation’, and ‘has an ego’.
Partners Group said it went to ‘substantial lengths to help Miss Mulumba and in no way treated her less favourably’ before dismissing her.
Employment Judge Richard Nicolle said: ‘Whilst we consider Miss Mulumba had a genuine belief that her progression had been stymied, we nevertheless consider that she progressively developed a mindset pursuant to which she sought to combine a series of individual acts and omissions into what she clearly construed as being a coordinated campaign to prevent her progression.
‘Whilst undoubtedly elements of her employment could have been handled better by [Partners Group]… we nevertheless consider that, looked at in totality, [Partners Group] sought to provide her with the opportunity to progress notwithstanding their belief that her performance was sub-optimal.
‘We also consider that she demonstrated an increasing tendency to find evidence of discriminatory conduct, for example… the ”blackface” photo… albeit that these individual incidents were not directly attributable to a course of conduct pertaining to her.’
However, Miss Mulumba won a claim of unfair dismissal on a technicality as it was not made clear to her or put into writing that she was to be sacked.
Compensation will be awarded for this claim at a later date.