Amazon security guard’s ‘Gary Coleman’ harassment case dismissed

An Amazon security guard sued for harassment, after claiming that a colleague ‘ridiculed’ her by comparing her to famed 1980s child star Gary Coleman. Christian Ononi said he was being harassed because of his height after someone pasted a picture of an American actor on a wall at work.

However, his case was dismissed when a tribunal ruled that since the photograph was only of Coleman’s head and shoulders, it was not meant to mock Mr Ononi’s stature. Coleman was best known for playing Arnold Jackson in the sitcom Different Strokes, with his iconic catchphrase ‘Whatcha talkin’ bout Willis?’

The popular show about two African-American boys by a wealthy white man ran for eight series and 189 episodes between 1978–1986. The actor was suffering from a condition called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, an autoimmune disease that alters the kidneys. As a result, he stopped growing at a height of 4’8″. In 2010, at the age of 42, he died of a head injury caused by a fall.

The tribunal held in Norwich heard Mr Ononi had been hired by MAN Commercial Protection Ltd to provide security at Amazon’s warehouse in Peterborough, Cambs since August 2019. In November, Mr Ononi claimed he was ‘ridiculous’ by an agency employee at the site. Photographing a person of short stature.

The Tribunal heard that someone printed and applied a photograph showing the head and shoulders of the late Gary Coleman. Mr Ononi complained to site security manager Richard Unite, believing that was the intended target of the poster, and removed the picture.

The tribunal heard that Mr Unit had examined the occupants of the shift, but it could not be ascertained who printed or put up the picture as there was no CCTV in that area. Shree Unit then sent an email to employees regarding ‘respect for all colleagues’, bullying and harassment.

The tribunal heard that Mr Ononi was repeatedly criticized by Mr Unit for having poor timing which he said was due to a faulty car battery. The Nigerian national was sacked the following year for refusing to empty his pocket when the owners noticed a ‘bulge’ and suspected him of theft.

The tribunal heard how, as of February 2020, Mr Ononi had been searched on at least eight occasions without any objection and had cooperated. The increasing theft led to regular searches of workers at the Amazon site.

However, on one occasion Mr Unit asked Mr Ononi to empty his pockets after seeing ‘clear evidence of items potentially concealed in his pocket’. Mr Ononi was suspended for ‘failure to follow proper management instruction’ when he refused to empty his pocket after Mr Unit asked twice.

The following month, he was sacked after a disciplinary meeting and sued his employers for race discrimination, harassment and unfair dismissal. As well as the height harassment claim, Mr Ononi also alleged that he was racially abused over the radio by a colleague. He accused the aide of saying ‘Christian, talk to me in English’, but the tribunal did not hear that no other activist had heard it.

All his claims were rejected by the tribunal. Regarding Gary Coleman’s claim, Judge Robin Postal said: “[Mr Ononye] committed an offense on it, believing that he was being made an object of ridicule [his] height. Apparently Mr. Coleman was of short stature. The picture does not in any way imply that Mr. Coleman is of short stature.”

Complaining about him being wrongly selected for being late, Judge Postal said: “It is not an excuse for delay to say on the second, third, fourth and fifth occasion ‘Oh no, it’s my battery, I knew I had a faulty battery’. Therefore the Tribunal found no evidence that [Mr Ononye] They were being picked up for being late, or being treated differently or less favorably than any other employee who was late on a regular basis.”

And regarding his eventual dismissal, the judge said the company has the right to refuse what was discovered to be gross misconduct.

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