Ruling

13203-17 Hoyte v Sunday Mercury

    • Date complaint received

      21st September 2017

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 13203-17 Hoyte v Sunday Mercury

Summary of complaint

1. Paul Hoyte complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Sunday Mercury breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article headlined “JLR worker given £20,000 award for ‘injured feelings’”, published in print on 28 May 2017.

2. The article reported that the complainant had been an employee at Jaguar Land Rover Ltd, and had brought legal claims against his former employer for unfair dismissal, on the grounds of race and disability discrimination and harassment because of his race. The article stated that the claimant alleged that racist comments had been made in relation to a workplace poster, which the article reported aimed to “discourage workers from taking part in 'disruptive behaviour'.” The article stated that the poster “featured a tree full of healthy apples with a rotten one in the middle” and carried the caption “don’t let one bad apple spoil it for everyone.” The article also reported that the complainant had complained that racist nicknames had been used in the workplace, and also stated that he had brought a discrimination claim, and had accused workers of harassing him because of his disability. The article reported that the complainant had won his claims for disability discrimination and harassment and had been awarded nearly £20,000, but claims for unfair dismissal and race discrimination were rejected. The article also stated that the complainant’s claim for costs had been rejected.

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate. He said that the tribunal had accepted his claim of racial discrimination, and this represented the majority of the compensation he was awarded. He also said he had made allegations of disability discrimination and harassment against his manager, not fellow workers, that the poster in question was not to do with difficult workers, but a whistleblowing hotline, and that his employer had made an application for costs, which had been refused, not him. The complainant was also concerned that the article did not make clear that the company’s internal procedures had been criticised by the tribunal judge.

4. The newspaper said that the article was based on information heard during proceedings and the judgment published by the tribunal. The newspaper did not believe that the complainant’s concerns relating to the purpose of the workplace poster; that the complainant believed his manager had discriminated and harassed him because of his disability; and that the article excluded the tribunal’s criticism of the employer’s internal procedures; represented significant inaccuracies such as to require correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).

5. The newspaper said that the summary on the first page of the tribunal’s judgment stated that only claims for harassment on the grounds of race and disability and disability discrimination had been upheld. However the full judgment, which the newspaper had relied on at several points in the article, made clear that the complainant’s race discrimination claim had also been upheld. The newspaper also accepted that it had erroneously reported that the complainant had applied for costs, when in fact the application had been made by his employer. The publication offered to publish the following correction on page 2 to reflect this:

On 28 May 2017(“JLR Worker given £20,000 award ‘injured feelings’”) we reported that “Mr Hoyte had won his claims for disability discrimination and harassment, but claims for unfair dismissal and race discrimination were rejected.” We would like to make clear that while Mr Hoyte’s claim for unfair dismissal was rejected, he won his claims for race discrimination and disability harassment. We also reported that Mr Hoyte’s claim for costs was rejected and would like to clarify that Mr Hoyte made no claim for costs - it was the respondent’s claim for costs that was refused.

6. The complainant did not accept the correction offered.

Relevant Code provisions

7. Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

Findings of the Committee

8. The summary on the first page of the employment tribunal’s judgment had omitted that the complainant’s claim for race discrimination was also upheld. However, the article had gone further than to omit the complainant’s race discrimination claim, but had reported that it had been rejected by the tribunal. The article also reported that the complainant had applied for costs that had been rejected, when in fact his employer’s application for costs had been rejected. The full judgment, which the newspaper was in possession of, made clear that the complainant’s claim of race discrimination was upheld, and that his employer had applied for costs and this had been rejected. In this respect, the newspaper had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate information, in breach of Clause 1 (i).

9. It was significantly inaccurate for the article to report that the complainant’s claim for race discrimination was not upheld, as this was the grounds on which the majority of the compensation was awarded. Similarly, it was significantly inaccurate to report that the complainant’s application for costs was refused, as this was an inaccurate report of the tribunal’s findings. In this respect, the newspaper had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate information, in breach of Clause 1 (i).

10. The Committee also noted the complainant’s concern that the article had not made clear that his disability harassment claim was brought against his manager. The Committee did not find this to be significant, as the identity of the employees who the complainant accused of disability harassment did not appear to have a bearing on the decision of the tribunal, and were not directly referenced in its findings.

11. The poster advertised a whistleblowing hotline. The article had accurately described what was depicted in the workplace poster and reported the complainant’s concern that his colleagues had made racist comments in relation to the “bad apple” campaign shown in the poster. In the context of an article reporting on the complainant’s employment tribunal, it was not misleading to characterise the poster as seeking to “discourage workers from taking part in disruptive behaviour.” In addition, the newspaper’s decision not to include the tribunal’s criticism of the employer’s internal procedures was a matter of selection, over which the newspaper has editorial discretion. The omission of this information did not render the article inaccurate or otherwise misleading.

Conclusion

12. The complaint was upheld in relation to Clause 1 (i).

Remedial action required

13. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.

14. The newspaper had promptly offered to publish a correction on page two, which addressed the inaccuracies and was sufficiently prominent. This should now be published.

Date complaint received: 06/06/2017
Date decision issued: 01/09/2017