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Teenager wins £16,000 after tribunal says Topshop bosses were racist

Black teenager wins £16,000 after tribunal rules Topshop bosses were racist for branding her ‘thick’ and saying she was ‘earning a lot for someone like her’

  • Shaniqua McKenzie was racially abused at her old job at Topshop in Wimbledon
  • Her bosses told her she was ‘earning a lot of money for someone like her’
  • The racism she experienced was ‘covert and polite’ but made her ‘fearful’ 

A black teenager has won £16,000 after a tribunal ruled Topshop bosses were racist for calling her ‘thick’ and she was ‘earning a lot of money for someone like her’.

Shaniqua McKenzie, who was 16 at the time, was asked by her bosses at a Topshop in Wimbledon, London, how her grandma could afford to give her a Tiffany bracelet.

She said the racism she experienced was often ‘covert and polite’ but it made her ‘fearful’ she would experience the same treatment in every job she applied for.

Miss McKenzie had been working as a sales advisor at the store on part-time hours. It was her first job.

Shaniqua McKenzie, who was 16 at the time, from London, was told she was ‘earning a lot of money for someone like her’ by her bosses at Topshop in Wimbledon

An employment tribunal held in South London heard that soon after she started she accidentally processed a gift voucher as a payment which led to one of the tills being £40 down.

A few months later she forgot to clear a clothes rail which led to a manager, Michelle Polland, sending a message to the work WhatsApp group telling her ‘we are adults’.

Shortly after, in January 2019, Miss McKenzie tried to apply for a transfer to the Kingston branch of Topshop.

However, Ms Polland became ‘angry’ with her for wanting to leave and said: ‘It’s like you belong to me and then you want to belong to them.’

The teenager said this made her feel like she was ‘owned’ and that her manager wanted to ‘commodify her’.

Later that day Ms Polland called her to her office and told her the position in Kingston had been filled and there was no possibility of a transfer.

The teen said she was ‘shocked and upset’ and felt Ms Polland had intervened personally to block her request.

Miss McKenzie said she began to suspect Ms Polland held racist views after she asked the confused teenager how her grandmother was able to afford a Tiffany bracelet she had given to her.

In another incident Miss McKenzie went to her manager with a query about her payslip, but dismissing her concerns Ms Polland replied ‘it seems like a lot of money for someone like you to earn’.

In January 2019, Miss McKenzie tried to apply for a transfer to the Kingston branch of Topshop

Miss Mckenzie alleged that whenever black customers came into the store Ms Polland would comment that they ‘could not afford what they were looking at’ and would assign someone to follow them around.

Miss Mckenzie also told the tribunal she had been given less induction training than the other members of the team, who were all white, and she was being refused overtime.

When another new girl started she told Miss McKenzie said she hadn’t even had to do an interview to get her job and she could work hours that suited her.

Miss McKenzie told the tribunal this made her feel ‘shocked and hurt’ as she had battled ‘for months’ to be treated equally.

When she confronted Ms Polland about this, her boss said: ‘I don’t know whether I’m being thick or you are?… I don’t have to answer to you.’

The teen was so shocked by this response, which Ms Polland denied saying, she immediately burst into tears.

At the hearing, Miss McKenzie said: ‘I was made to feel really worthless and voiceless by Michelle Polland and HR. I feel like loads of the things I said happened were entirely dismissed.

‘I have been made to feel ostracised, for example sending the picture of the rail and Michelle commenting on it.

‘I was made to feel inferior, as people with less experience than me were given training and they invested time in others and not me, disregarding what I have done…

‘I felt insecure and scared of life. How I am coming across?

‘My first job at 16. Is this it, how it is to have a job? Is this how life is? Is this how I am expected to go through this as a black person all my life? Is it worth going to Uni. I was very hurt.’

Employment Judge Philip Tsamados concluded: ‘As to the words used, we were concerned that calling the only black member of staff “thick” and the other comments made by Ms Polland as to “someone like you” and her grandmother having the means to buy a Tiffany bracelet, were words which were often seen as hallmark words denoting racism.’

He said he found the evidence of Miss McKenzie very ‘poignant and compelling’ and it gave a ‘clear insight’ into how she felt about her treatment.

The tribunal awarded her £16,097 and said her claims of direct race discrimination were well founded.

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