Labor MP unfairly fired aide who was his ex-girlfriend, court says

Birmingham MP Perry Barr Khalid Mahmood (David Mirzoeff/PA) (PA file)

A Labor lawmaker wrongfully fired his aide and ex-girlfriend after she felt “outside and isolated” in the months leading up to her job loss, according to a court.

Elaina Cohen has accused Birmingham MP Perry Barr, Khalid Mahmood, of firing her after she raised concerns with him under whistleblower regulations over a co-worker she claimed was an “abusive criminal”.

Mahmood said Cohen was fired for breaking parliamentary office protocols and sending “derogatory” and “offensive” emails, one of which described him as a “first-class idiot”, which was forwarded to Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer.

After a six-day hearing in London in May, the court found that Cohen was unfairly dismissed.

An injury claim because of a protected disclosure was also successful because she was “marginalized and isolated” from January 2020 until her dismissal a year later.

However, three other remaining claims – including that the dismissal was motivated by racial and religious discrimination and a direct result of whistleblowing – were not well substantiated and rejected.

The central London audience heard that Cohen began working for Mahmood in his House of Commons office in 2003.

They entered a “romantic relationship” soon after, which ended in 2005 or 2008, according to the panel.

However, their relationship became more strained over the years as the pair continued to work together.

On October 11, 2020, the pair spent a Sunday afternoon “dueling” over emails, prompting Mahmood to forward his correspondence – including the “idiot first class” comment – to Sir Keir.

A month later, the audience heard that Cohen had sent Mahmood a “crude and insensitive” email following the death of his father-in-law, and then sent him an “inappropriate and unnecessary” email, with a copied voter, who called him various names, including a “womanizing merchant” and “jealous”.

“This was, in short, something akin to a ‘poison pen’ email that was calculated by the Plaintiff to be offensive to the Defendant,” Labor Judge Tim Adkin’s ruling stated.

A formal discipline was then launched in January 2021 by Mahmood, who listed five charges against her.

She was then fired on January 27 of that year.

The panel concluded that while three of the five allegations listed by Mahmood were “highly reasonable grounds to believe misconduct”, the manner in which his dismissal was carried out was “outside the range of reasonable responses”.

The panel added that it accepted an injury claim after Mahmood failed to contact it in 2020.

“The Court accepts the Plaintiff’s evidence that she felt marginalized and isolated from January 2020 until her dismissal,” it said.

“We found that the Respondent, who in recent years had had a very dysfunctional relationship with the Claimant, offered very little contact or support during the year 2020. This was potentially harmful treatment.”

After the court’s findings, Mr. Mahmood said in a statement: “I am pleased with the outcome of the trial which states: ‘We consider that the main reason the Claimant was dismissed was her conduct. In her testimony to the Court, the Applicant appeared to give little credence to the suggestion that her messages to the Respondent were inappropriate and offensive.

This was, in short, something akin to a ‘poison pen’ email that was calculated by the Claimant to be offensive to the Defendant.

Labor Judge Tim Adkin

“Whether this was a lack of awareness of her effect on others or a reluctance to make a concession in the audience is less clear. However, the Court finds that the Claimant’s abusive style of communication and her propensity to involve high-level persons in her private conflict with the Respondent was the main reason for her dismissal.

“The Claimant has not established that the decision to dismiss was related to her race, religion or belief.

“There were five reasons for Cohen’s dismissal. The Court concluded that three of the five were confirmed.”

A two-day appeal hearing is due to be heard on September 29 and 30.

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