Susan Brannan, a nurse of 25 years, was fired from her nursing position on the Konar ward of a mental health unit called The Gardens based at the Diana Princess of Wales Hospital in Grimsby, England after being accused of making several offensive and derogatory comments about her Nigerian colleagues, but she maintained that she was fired for making whistleblower complaints about performance issues. Brannan filed several unfair dismissal claims against the hospital.
The local tribunal, held in Nottingham, has now weighed in on her case, awarding Brannan £5,387.25, equal to $5,720.45, but the outcome doesn’t tell the whole story.
Problems began in March of 2019 when several new nurses from Nigeria arrived at the mental health clinic. The tribunal heard a range of complaints Brannan allegedly made about her colleagues. In one instance, she was looking at the staff schedule when she allegedly said, “Have you come to play spot the white person?” and, “Have you seen this, I’m the only white person on.”
Soon after the nurses arrived, Brannan made several complaints about her Nigerian colleagues, including that they were falling asleep on duty because they were tired from working second jobs. She complained to associate director Janine Smith about the nurses falling asleep and an incident of “force feeding”.
“I told the overseas nurses that we don’t lock the doors because they’re wanting to lock their patients in their rooms,” Brannan told the tribunal.
She said she told Smith that some staff members were afraid to raise concerns because of “racist connotations”.
In October of 2019, Brannan filled out an employee feedback form, citing concerns over “favoritism” and “victimization”.
“There appears to be a culture of victimization against staff who complain,” she wrote on the form. “There have been comments made of ageism and racism. Konar has unfortunately become a TOXIC environment.”
Brannan also complained to the chairman, Tom Hunter, that she felt the integration of the new nurses into the existing workforce was not going well because the nurses from Nigeria “keep themselves separate and often spoke in their own language in mixed company”.
After Brannan’s meeting with Hunter, Leanne Grimes, a newly qualified nurse, accused Brannan of racism.
“I overheard Sue say to them ‘have you come to play spot the white person,’” Grimes wrote in a complaint.
“Another time during a conversation between myself and Sue she stated to me that ‘[senior operational manager Freedom Nwokedie] isn’t interested in you white girls anymore’ and went on to further add… ‘It’s all about them now’ referring to the newest recruited nurses.’”
“On another occasion… Sue stated, ‘This is our hard-earned NHS money bringing these over,’” Grimes added. “Sue then expressed (what I interpreted as her annoyance) at the fact that her son-in-law had not passed the interview stage for a job on Konar suite at the beginning of the year stating, ‘Yet half of these can’t speak English, how is that fair.’”
And finally, “This weekend just gone, Sue was working nights and she came on duty stating she was not happy with how the rota had been done and stated, ‘Have you seen this, I’m the only white person on.’”
Grimes ended the complaint with: “These kinds of comments are becoming more frequent… and they are beginning to make staff, myself included, feel very uncomfortable.”
In a similar complaint, another staff member, Jodie Prest, claimed that Brannan said, “They’ve come to our country, they need to do what we do.”
“[A] member of staff will usually feel uncomfortable whenever she is on shift with black and minority groups. I find this attitude a disgraceful one,” complained Pete Ayangbile, a mental health practitioner.
When her bosses confronted her about her offensive comments, Brannan said they were lies and retaliation for complaining about the Nigerian nurses falling asleep on the job.
Brannan was suspended in October. During a disciplinary hearing in November of 2019, she said: “No offense to the Nigerian girls, but there’s no passion.”
“These old people, they are frightened and I can understand why. These are people from an ethnic minority town, which we are, and all of a sudden, these girls, yeah they’re nurses, but they’ve come from such a different environment… and they are not used to that,” Brannan added.
She also said: “They’re all from different parts of Nigeria, different tribes. They’re even falling out with each other because they were living together in one place.”
Brannan finally lost her job in December.
The tribunal ruled that Brannan was fairly terminated for making racist comments but that the procedure was not fair. The judges said the hospital didn’t present enough witnesses to corroborate the nurse’s comments to warrant her firing.
Brannan’s compensation was reduced from the original amount to £5,387.25 because the tribunal found that she was to blame for her dismissal.
Employment Judge Rachel Broughton added, “[Ms Brannan], more so than other colleagues, was resistant to the arrival of the new nurses and the changes. Her language and attitude the Tribunal found, became divisive and her resentment… negatively affected her perception of the new nurses and this was exhibited in the ‘them and us’ language she was using.”