Labour MP unfairly dismissed aide who was his ex-girlfriend, tribunal finds

Birmingham Perry Barr MP Khalid Mahmood sacked Elaina Cohen after she sent him “derogatory” and “offensive” emails.

02 August 2022

A Labour MP unfairly dismissed his aide and ex-girlfriend after she felt “marginalised and isolated” in the months leading up to her losing her job, a tribunal has found.

Elaina Cohen accused Birmingham Perry Barr MP Khalid Mahmood of sacking her after she raised concerns with him under whistleblowing regulations about a fellow staffer who she claimed was a “criminal abuser”.

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

Following a six-day hearing in London in May, the tribunal found Ms Cohen was unfairly dismissed.

A claim of detriment because of a protected disclosure also succeeded because she was “marginalised 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 whistle blowing – were not well founded and dismissed.

The hearing in central London heard that Ms Cohen started to work for Mr Mahmood in his House of Commons office in 2003.

They entered into a “romantic relationship” shortly afterwards, which either ended in 2005 or 2008, the panel was told.

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

On October 11 2020, the pair spent a Sunday afternoon “duelling” over emails, which led to Mr Mahmood forwarding their correspondence – including the “first class idiot” comment – to Sir Keir.

A month later, the hearing heard Ms Cohen sent Mr Mahmood a “crass and insensitive” email following the death of his father-in-law, and later sent him an “inappropriate and unnecessary” email, with a constituent copied in, which called him several names including a “womanising con merchant” and “jealous”.

“This was in short something akin to a ‘poison pen’ email which was calculated by the Claimant to be offensive to the Respondent,” the ruling by Employment Judge Tim Adkin stated.

A formal disciplinary was then launched in January 2021 by Mr Mahmood, who listed five allegations against her.

She was then dismissed on January 27 that year.

The panel concluded that while three out of the five allegations listed by Mr Mahmood were “ample reasonable grounds for belief in misconduct”, the way her dismissal was carried out was “outside of the range of reasonable responses”.

The panel added it accepted one claim of detriment after Mr Mahmood did not contact her during 2020.

“The Tribunal accepts the Claimant’s evidence that she did feel marginalised and isolated from January 2020 until her dismissal,” it said.

“We find that the Respondent, who had in recent years been in a fairly dysfunctional relationship with the Claimant, offered very little by way of contact or support during the course of 2020. This was potentially detrimental treatment.”

Following the tribunal’s findings, Mr Mahmood said in a statement: “I am pleased with the outcome of the judgment which states: ‘We find that the principal reason that the Claimant was dismissed was her conduct. In her evidence to the Tribunal the Claimant seemed to give little credence to the suggestion that her messages to the Respondent were inappropriate and offensive.

“Whether that was a lack of insight into her effect on others or reluctance to make a concession in the hearing is less clear. Nevertheless the Tribunal forms the view that the Claimant’s abusive style of communication and her propensity to involve senior people in her private conflict with the Respondent was the principal reason for her dismissal.

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

“There were five reasons for dismissal for Ms Cohen. The Tribunal concluded three out of the five were upheld.”

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

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